Published: May 1, 2005 By

The Rise of the Heterosexual Male Adolescent

[1] Prior to the twentieth century, male adolescents were often presumed children in affect and interests, and thus excused from heterosexual potential or desire (Maynes, 1992; Stovkis, 1993; Cohen, 1999; Moran, 2000).  Even during the first decades of the twentieth century, when industrialization, urbanization, and universal higher education extended adolescence through the teen years and even longer (Handlin, 1971; Kett, 1977; Palladino 1996), heterosexual desire was by no means necessary or even common among adolescent boys in mass culture.  Though the sex-phobia of the Victorian era was fading gradually in the wake of progressive sex manuals, Freudian psychoanalysis, and burlesque, the marriage bed was still considered a curse, a constraint of civilization, along with real estate, automobiles, liver pills, and lending libraries.  Husbands throughout the popular culture of the 1920s and 1930s hated their wives, hated the marriage bed, longed for the escape of poker or bowling with male friends, and longed for the wild Tom Sawyer freedom of their youth.

[2] Whatever adolescents were doing in real life, in mass culture they lived in a homoromantic Eden, forming intimate, sensual bonds with each other and looking upon the other sex as siblings or children.  Thus, Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy treated sidekicks Betty and Buddy with equal regard, and in his movie serial, he rescued Princess Alura (Claire James) from any number of cliffhangers without finding her particularly alluring.  Tim Tyler had a sidekick named Spud in the comics and Lazarre at the movies, but never a girlfriend.  Mickey Rooney played adolescents a dozen times, in Boys Town, Slave Ship, The Devil is a Sissy, and Tom Brown’s School Days, bonding aggressively with other boys, notably scrappy sissy Freddie Bartholomew, but treating girls as sisters or unwelcome intrusions.  Between 1937 and 1946, wise-cracking juvenile delinquent Leo Gorcey flirted with girls only twice in thirty-odd movie melodramas, and Frankie Darro played “woman-hating” teenagers over fifty times.  Occasionally teenage boys were interested in girls, but Harold Teen’s newspaper antics were overwhelmed by the proliferation of Rover Boys and Hardy Boys, and for every William Sylvanus Baxter who gaped at the girl-next-door, a dozen Huck Finns lit out for the territory.

[3] As the Depression eased into Wartime, teenagers began to develop their own social institutions, at least among the middle classes, with their own norms and values, social structures, hierarchies, and cultural artifacts (Jackson, 1989; Hine, 1999). During the 1930s, college enrollment doubled, and the high school graduation rate increased from 51% to 73%, with concomitant increases in leisure time, freedom, and disposable income.   Dating, which originated among the working classes during the 1920s, seeped into the middle classes, making marital partner selection a matter of choice rather than parental mandate  (Hawes, 1997: 24-25). But why should they select marital partners at all?  Today the impetus might be heterosexual practice itself, portrayed as “the grail, the ultimate in human maturity and happiness” (quoted in Katz, 1996: viii).  But in the 1930s, heterosexual practice was still presumed a duty, onerous but necessary, insufficient to compel the new generation into becoming husbands and wives. They needed a monster to chase them into the wedding chapel.

[4] It has become an historical commonplace that challenges to the male primacy in intellectual, political, and economic pursuits produced a “homosocial panic” during the last half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth (Adam, 1996; Sedgwick, 1990; Katz, 1995:. 89-91; Thomas, 1997).  Homoerotic desire, which blurred the boundaries between public and private, “masculine” and “feminine,” took on a staggering significance as a threat to the family, the social order, and civilization itself, resulting in the construction of a male heteronormativity defined not through desire for women but through flight from anything that might suggest desire for men.  By the start of World War II, male heteronormativity had become securely ensconced as normal and natural.  Heterosexual desire was inscribed within the very concept of desire itself (Sedgwick, 1990), while homoerotic desire was vilified as, at best, artificial, infantile, and false, and more often as evidence of psychopathology.

[5] During the Jazz Age and the first years of the Depression, Hollywood was home to a thriving gay and lesbian community. As long as actors maintained a minimal heterosexual façade in their public lives, they were free to seek each other out at exclusive parties held by the movie elite, or else cruise the Sunset Boulevard nightclubs where working-class gays and lesbians, with no careers to lose, remained true to themselves (Loughery, 1998: 74-79; Mann, 2002; McClellan, 2000). One is astonished by the many casual references to the gay/lesbian subculture in the memoirs of actors who were children or adolescents during the period.  Jackie Cooper recalls gay rumors centering on his friendship with Wallace Beery (1981:200).  Frank Coghlan recounts that when he was twenty years old, a costar (probably the openly gay Dick Hogan) made a pass at him on the set of Blazing Barriers (1993: 123-124).  Mickey Rooney quotes from a love letter “Andy Hardy” received from a gay fan in 1940 (1991:199).  Even memoirs predating Stonewall mention gay people frequently, and often in neutral or positive contexts, as when Leo Gorcey quips that “most of the sex kings and queens fell in love everyday — the kings fell in love with the kings and the queens fell in love with the queens” (1967:32).

[6] But as War loomed on the horizon, the era of relative openness ended.  In 1937, J. Edgar Hoover declared “War on the Sex Criminal,” meaning mostly gay men, and a psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler began to publish articles in professional journals and women’s magazines arguing that “inversion” was not a harmless eccentricity, but a dangerous psychosis. As World War II began, commentators worried that “perverts”might compromise the Allied war effort, so tests were initiated to weed out the gay recruits.  In 1942 Philip Wylie published Generation of Vipers, a bestseller that pinned the fate of free world on America’s ability to produce “manly men,”that is, straight men, not the weak, girlish milksops currently being churned out by clinging mothers (Berube, 1990; Terry, 1999: 304-312).

[7] Adolescents were singled out for special concern, since their heterosexual desire was still inchoate and developing.  Freud and the Freudian pop-psychologists warned that boys could move from latency to “perversion” in any number of ways, through the deliberate or accidental intervention of parents, teachers, peers, and strangers on the street.  As Benshoff notes (1997: 139), the ongoing worry of adults during the period was “whether the boys would become successful, mature, adult males, and not turn gay along the way” (cf. Grant, 2001).  The mandate to promote heterosexual adulthood, plus the need to create a new national character at the end of the era of isolationism, combined to produce a new “all-American boy,” resourceful, industrious, wisecracking yet serious when it counted, cautious yet brave when it counted, smart but not an egghead, sensitive but not a sissy, doting on his mother, obedient to his father, a big brother to the kids and a pal to his peers.  He was Protestant, white, middle class, and a small-town resident, written in opposition to the Roman Catholic, nonwhite, working-class, urban boy of gangster melodramas.  And, for perhaps the first time in media history, he was wild about girls.

[8] But his girl-craziness arrived with many difficulties.  At first it was antithetical to masculinity, a flight into the feminine to be remedied through intimate same-sex bonds.  Only gradually did it become a requisite of adolescent masculinity, and the same-sex bonds a characteristic of boyhood, to be repudiated quickly and joyfully upon a pubertal “discovery” of girls.

Henry Aldrich

[9] During the War, teenage boys proliferated on the radio.  Many liked girls – Bud on The Barton Family(1939-42), Joey on That Brewster Boy (1940-45), Oogie on A Date with Judy (1941-50), Dexter on Meet Corliss Archer (1943-54) – but their girl-craziness characterized them as awkward, clumsy, and timid, as sissies and “namby-pambies” (Nachman, 1998: 215). Perhaps the most famous, Henry Aldrich, began his career as a shy sissy-boy in Clifford Goldsmith’s Broadway play What a Life (1937), before spinning off into fourteen years of radio (1939-53), four years of television (1949-53), a series of nine movies, and an uncountable number of comic books, musical scores, pin-ups, games, and toys (Harmon, 1970: 87-99).  The voice-cracking “Coming, Mother!”, Henry’s response to his battle-axe Mom’s summons, became a famous catchphrase, endlessly parodied by comedians. By 1950, the overture of the radio series was calling him “the typical American teenage boy”:

Even though everyone knows him, because he lives in your house, or next door, or somewhere in your memory, no one has yet been able to define the typical teenage American boy.  All you can say is that he exists in the person of Henry Aldrich.

Yet the squeaky-voiced, passive, feminine Henry Aldrich is nothing like the mass media teenagers of today, or even those of the 1950’s.  Although he is interested in girls to the point of absurdity, his girl-craziness is constantly portrayed as a feminizing threat.

[10] In the first two movies, What a Life (1939) and Life with Henry(1941), Henry Aldrich is portrayed by Jackie Cooper, seventeen years old, solidly-built, even hunky in his black t-shirt, but certainly not a big man on campus – sneering bullies call him “panty-waist” and “honey-boy,” shrill, authoritarian Dad accuses Mom of turning him into a “milksop,” and the matinee idol principal, Mr. Nelson (John Howard), offers a somewhat more kindly characterization: “he’s kind of a gentle kid.” Henry faces the hostility, as well as various plot-heavy scams and false accusations, with sardonic resignation; he has been beaten down so many times by his world that he dare not hope for more than sheer survival.

[11] Like most teenage boys of the 1930s, Jackie Cooper’s Henry is decidedly uninterested in girls.  Though Barbara (Betty Field) bribes him with cake, he refuses to escort her to the big dance.  Asked if there isn’t a girl in school worth the sixty cent admission price, he replies “Not to me!”  Instead, he establishes intimate and arguably romantic bonds with attractive adult men.  In What a Life, he depends on Mr. Nelson’s counsel, heart-to-hearts, and shoulder-pats in the locker room, and in Life with Henry, he sneaks out of the house for covert meetings with an auto mechanic named Bill (Rod Cameron), who clips pictures of swimsuit models from magazines or talks about the mail-order brides that he almost married, while Henry lies cozily on the bed, his shirt half-undone.  Why must Bill demonstrate his heterosexual interest so obsessively?  What precisely have they been up to?

[12] After Life with Henry, Jackie Cooper thought that he had outgrown the role, so Paramount hired Jimmy Lydon for the remainder of the series.  Lydon’s Henry is a turkey-necked stringbean who cracks his voice all the time instead of in moments of stress, and has the habit of holding his face uncomfortably close to people as he talks.  The bond with adult men so common among teenage boys of the last generation remains only in the first of Jimmy Lydon’s movies,Henry Aldrich for President (1941): Henry has been sneaking out for a series of secret rendezvous with gas station attendant Ed Calkins (Rod Cameron again), who continuously insists that he tell no one about their relationship.  It turns out that Henry has been taking illegal flying lessons from the grounded pilot, but the need for absolute secrecy suggests that the danger is “really” about something else.  There is even a subtle reference to same-sex practice: while Henry is solo-flying, a mouse crawls up his pants leg, and he concludes that his passenger, Mr. McCloskey, is getting fresh.  He glares at him and says “Stop that!  It’s very dangerous to tickle someone while he’s flying a plane!”

[13] In later installments, Henry’s same-sex bonds are limited to best buddy Dizzy (Charles Smith), and he devotes most of his time to reckless and wild-eyed pursuits of girls.  At the slightest attention from a girl, he wilts with a goofy expression on his face, and a kiss on the cheek causes him to shout “yippee!”   His friends accept this hetero-mania as an odd quirk, as when he oozes at the new music teacher in Henry Aldrich Swings It (1943):

Phyllis: Look at Henry!  You don’t suppose he’s going icky on us, do you?

Dizzy: He’s got that look. Something always happens when Henry starts looking like that. [To Henry, angrily.] What the heck’s the matter with you?

[14] Others are less sympathetic.  Boys at school taunt him, his father chastises him, and even his girlfriends disapprove of girl-craziness as a symptom of weakness, and therefore “unmanly.”  In Henry Aldrich Haunts a House (1943),  Henry is unable to hug his girlfriend Elise (Joan Mortimer) tightly enough, so she labels him “weak.”  She invites him into the kitchen for pie, assigning him the role of a child, but instead, desperate to become a “real man,” he drinks a strengthening potion that her mad-scientist father has developed.  It doesn’t work, but through a series of inane coincidences he comes to believe that he has become a Jekyll-Hyde monster, a sissy by day and a ravaging Neanderthal by night.  “Ordinarily you’re a very sweet guy,” Dizzy squeals, “But now I’m afraid of you..”  It is important that Dizzy uses the term “sweet,” a complimentary turn on the same lack of manliness that elsewhere gets Henry called “honey-boy” and “panty-waist.”  But later in the movie, Henry demonstrates that he is manly in spite of his girl-craziness by rescuing his friends from a gang of counterfeiters.

[15] In the late Henry Aldrich, Boy Scout (1944), Henry’s heterosexual interest is finally associated with manly strength and courage.  In the first scene, he is talking to Elise in the back yard while Dizzy and the others watch from an upstairs window.

Henry: You know, Elise, since your father gave me more responsibility [in the chemistry lab],  I’ve been blossoming into manhood.  I know what I want.

Elise: [Turns her face up hopefully.]  You do, Henry?

Henry: Sure.  I want to win the [boy scout] inspection this afternoon.

But he is riffing on the old, unmanly Henry.  He also wants a kiss, since heterosexual performance will now accentuate his boy scout achievements.  As they begin the kiss (off-camera), Dizzy and Mr. Aldrich peer through binoculars.

Mr. Aldrich: Any action yet, Dizzy?

Dizzy: Oh, boy!  He’s rising to the occasion, sir!

[16] A few movies ago, Henry’s heterosexual practice would embarrass Dizzy and befuddle Mr. Aldrich, but now they both desire its validation.  It is no longer a deterrent to all-American masculinity; indeed, it is required.  Henry goes on to rescue his young charge Peter from a literal cliffhanger at the Tri-State Boy Scout Camperol (a week-long wilderness competition), and in the last scene he marches off to victory beneath a superimposed Stars and Stripes.

Jackie Moran

[17] A cherubic boy actor, Jackie Moran played the titular role in the weeper Michael O’Halloran and an unusually feminine Huckleberry Finn in Norman Taurog’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer before Monogram hired him for a series of six rural-schoolboy melodramas (1938-1941).  Jackie played barefoot, red-cheeked high schoolers content with intimate bonds with other boys, and Marcia Mae Jones a new girl in town, usually a sophisticated New Yorker, who set her sights on him.  Yet she was never quite able to make a boyfriend of him, and indeed the films seem unsure whether all-American boys kiss girls or refuse to kiss girls, whether adolescent masculinity is best evoked by jitterbugging at the school gym or lounging around the old swimming hole with the fellas.

[18] As Billy the Barefoot Boy (1938),  Jackie resembles the preteen of the 1855 John Greenleaf Whittier poem only in the opening shots, a bucolic idyll at the swimming hole.  Then he finds himself the object of aggressive posturing between two girls that Whittier never mentions, the fast-talking coquette Julia (Marilyn Knowlden) and the tomboyish future “G-Woman” Pige (Marcia Mae Jones).  He does not seem particularly drawn to either; instead, he brawl-bonds with bratty military school cadet Kenneth (Bradley Metcalfe).  When they investigate a haunted house, Kenneth is captured by the escaped convicts holding up there, and tied up in the basement.  Billy mounts a daring rescue, and is shot in the attempt.  Later, as the doctor treats him, Kenneth sits in the drawing room, sobbing.  He is the first allowed into the bedroom; he apologizes for their earlier brawls and presses a disputed watch into his hand.  Pige notes the affection and angrily pushes between them, offering Billy a substitute for his same-sex bond.

[19] In Tomboy (1940), hip, fast-talking Pat Kelley (Marcia Mae Jones again) moves to a rural school, where she line-drives a baseball and decks a flirting boy – “she’s not like the other girls,” her single Dad explains – she will have none of this “kissin’ and huggin'” stuff.   It is her masculinity that attracts the fey Steve (Jackie Moran); she helps him stand up to the bullying Harry (Marvin Stephens), and then invites him to the box social.  Steve’s newfound interest in girls doesn’t set well with his uncle, who beats and starves him to make him more “manly,” that is, less interested in girls.  The rest of the plot does not involve heterosexual romance at all, but Patsy’s scheme to rescue Steve from his abusive home, with the assistance of Harry, once bully and now chum.

[20] The Old Swimming Hole (1940) is named after an 1882 James Whitcomb Riley poem that mourns the loss of the elemental childhood connection to eternity.  To emphasize Jackie’s childhood “savagery,” his body is displayed more often than in the other movies, and he bonds with a younger boy named Jimmy (radio performer Dix Davis), who wants to join the older boys’ club. They punish him for trespassing with the “ordeal by water,” throwing him into the Swimming Hole, but he hits his head on a rock and loses consciousness.  Chris (Jackie) sits up by his bedside all night, begging “Don’t let him die, Doc!” and bursting into tears.  It is a much more emotionally intense scene than any that transpire between Chris and his new girlfriend Betty (Marcia).

[21] Even in the two movies with minor same-sex bonds, girl-craziness is portrayed as feminizing: Marcia dominates the relationship, brassily inviting Jackie out on dates and insisting that she be allowed access to the all-boy swimming hole.  They wash dishes together, Jackie in a flowered apron.  In Haunted House(1940), the lovestruck Jimmie (Jackie) types her first name with his last name over and over, like a schoolgirl dreaming of being a “Mrs.”  In The Gang’s All Here (1941), Patsy (Marcia) lambastes him for being insufficiently manly, and flirts with Frankie Darro to make him jealous until he finally summons up the courage to kiss her.

Andy Hardy

[22] In March 1937, sixteen-year old Mickey Rooney took a small role in A Family Affair, about the generation gap between stern, straitlaced small-town Judge Hardy, and his three children, Joan, Marion, and Andy.  As the youngest child, Andy had the fewest lines, but audiences responded to his zestful overacting and puppy-love adoration for Polly Benedict, and he signed on for more episodes.  You’re Only Young Once (1937) andJudge Hardy’s Children (1938) were only moderately successful, perhaps because they were about Judge Hardy, with Andy mugging somewhere in the background; butLove Finds Andy Hardy (1938), about three girls fighting over him, tripled the box office of the previous films, and landed Mickey Rooney (along with Diana Durbin) a special Oscar for “bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth.” Mickey Rooney continued to play Andy Hardy in sixteen films through 1947 (plus a 1958 reunion), then on radio inThe Adventures of Andy Hardy (1947-1950), and on television in The Mickey Rooney Show (1954-55), where his grown-up Andy Hardy was renamed Mickey Mulligan at the last minute. Andy Hardy saturated the media for fifteen years, with comic books, sheet music, records, games, and toys.

[23] Mickey Rooney was not an obvious heartthrob.  Frozen at a non-heroic 5’3″, with a scrunched up face and a roundish Santa Claus nose, he was characterized by a critic of the day as “that gnomish prodigy, that half human, half goblin man child, who is as old in cinema ways as Wallace Beery and twice as cute.” (quoted in Zierold, 1965: 216).  Yet he looked real  – Frankie Thomas, originally considered for the role, seemed somewhat too handsome to play a real teenager.

[24] Scholars and popularizers today often read the Andy Hardy films as emblematic of a lost golden age, seductive yet banal and trite.  Cross, for instance, critiques the series as “drenched in an almost insufferable sentimentality” (1981: 60).  But he is not watching carefully: this is no Disney nostalgia with kids and dogs.  Levy comes closer to the point (1991: 71): the people in Andy’s world mourn “a vision of happiness which eludes them.”   Everywhere there is sadness, disappointment, and a sort of bleak resolve to tow the mark.  Andy’s maiden aunt never quite fits into the family and yet never quite becomes her own person.  His older sister has trouble with men, dating a succession of cads, scoundrels, and drunks.  His father, no mere faceless font of wisdom, falls prey to con-artists and get-rich-quick schemes.  And Andy’s friends, sad or quirky, too tall or too short, too rich or too poor, are failures.

[25] Though Andy is similarly fallible, likely to jump to conclusions, act without thinking, betray friends by accident or design, he is absurdly attractive.  Every girl he encounters wants to kiss him.   He comes home from a party with a girl’s phone number scrawled across his chest.  He is mobbed at a school dance.  He asks his sister for advice on how to diminish girls’ admiration sufficiently to make it through high school without marrying.  In Love Finds Andy Hardy, he complains to his father, “I’m a nervous wreck!  Do you think there’s anything wrong with a guy if he doesn’t want a girl kissing him all the time?”

[26] Andy is desired not only by girls but by everyone, girls, boys, men, and women.  In Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (1939), his crush on the older drama teacher (Helen Gilbert) is partially requited (they will be milestones in each others’ lives, she says).  Meanwhile, a young classmate oddly named Stickin’ Plaster (Terry Kilburn) has a blatant, doe-eyed crush on Andy, and during the drama club play manipulates the prop moon to “accidentally” sabotage his big love scene.  Because everyone, everywhere tends to fall in love with Andy, boys appear mostly as unvariegated groups of “friends.” Regular Beezy (George P. Breakston) is only a schoolmate, not a sidekick like Henry Aldrich’s Dizzy or Archie Andrews’ Jughead; a constant companion would surely express a romantic interest that could not be ignored or denied.

[27] In two movies where Andy does acquire a buddy, the relationships become unabashedly homoromantic and the girl craziness is minimized.  In Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary (1941), Judge Hardy insists that the snobbish Andy give two poor kids jobs in the upcoming graduation festivities.  They drive to their house on the wrong side of the tracks, where we meet the opera-singing Kathryn (Kathryn Grayson), the private secretary of the title, and tall, goodlooking Harry (Todd Karns).  Andy intuits that the  “sensitive” and “artistic” Harry would make a good interior designer, so he gives him the job of decorating the gym.  Meanwhile, the Judge spies their handsome Dad, Steven (Ian Hunter), painting something in the back yard, and, barely able to contain his enthusiasm, announces that he “has some business to attend to” and joins him.

[28] The rest of the movie barely touches on the private secretary angle, and Judge Hardy’s wife and Andy’s girlfriend barely appear.  Instead, we see parallel stories of same-sex courtships.  We see the Judge and Steven riding cozily in a convertible; they are caught in the rain and seek refuge in a garage, and must change out of their wet clothes into mechanic uniforms.  The Judge is amazingly concerned with Steven’s welfare; he pulls strings in Washington to get him a job with the State Department, and when Andy botches it, he calls in a favor from the governor to get him a new job.  At the end of the movie, Andy and Polly Benedict are parked at a lover’s lane, when the Judge and Steven pull up. They “explain” that they are looking for Andy, but still, they were on their way to park at a lover’s lane.

[29] Meanwhile, after some sullen bitchiness, Harry falls hard for the oblivious Andy; he’s the first to comfort Andy when he is distraught over failing the vital English exam, and he stays up all night to help him study for a re-test.  Later he hops a speeding train to talk Andy out of leaving town.  At the end of the movie, Harry gets a decidedly feminine-coded job as a window dresser in a department store, so he gets to stay in town too. The screenplay of Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary came from Katharine Brush, who scripted the rather blatantly homoerotic Freddie Bartholomew vehicle Listen Darling, and Jane Murfin, who wrote the camp classic The Women, so we might expect a homoerotic subtext.  It is interesting, however, that  buddy-bonding and girl-craziness seem antithetical: they cannot occur in the same movie.  One is emblematic of old-style 1930s masculinity, and the other of the new.

[30] The same-sex bond is more pronounced in the unexpectedly solemn Life Begins for Andy Hardy(1941).  High school graduate Andy moves to New York to find a job, and takes a room at the City House for Boys, where young men lounge around in their undershirts, eyeing each other lasciviously.  He rejects the kiddie crush of Betsy Booth (Judy Garland) and the salacious advances of the gold-digging Miss Hicks (Patricia Dane) for a plot involving a relationship with Jimmy Frobisher (Ray McDonald), a flamboyantly feminine young man from the provinces who came to New York to become a dancer.  Any male dancer was sexually suspect at the time, but Jimmy exudes so much flamboyance, sensitivity, and theatricality that he might as well be wearing a sign.  Gigs are hard to find, and he was fired from his job as an office boy, so he is. . .um, living in Central Park.  He makes no allusions to prostitution – he might if the movie were filmed today – but he flirts quite openly with Andy, who feels sorry for him and sneaks him back to his room at the City House.

[31] They are both penniless, Andy because he is too proud to accept aid from his well-moneyed family and friends, and Jimmy because he is alone in the world – until now.  There are scenes of the two chatting cozily, Jimmy lying in his underwear on the room’s only single bed while Andy gets dressed, as if they have become a romantic couple. But one day Andy gets a job, followed by an invitation to dinner and dancing with Miss Hicks, and when he returns to the room late that night, he finds that Jimmy, feeling betrayed and abandoned, has killed himself.  It is a jarring scene, unprecedented in the Andy Hardy series, and the censors required a tacked-on ending which reveals that Jimmy didn’t kill himself after all, he died of a heart attack.  Andy concludes that “a fella should go ahead and do what he should do in this world, and not the things that are the biggest, most fun, and exciting,” and leaves the New York nightworld behind to return to Carvel, and college.


[31] Andy’s girl-craziness is so integral to the series that it is difficult to remember that MGM found it extremely problematic at first.  Was it a winning quality or a distracting flaw?  Was the character successfulbecause of or in spite of it?  Boys such as Penrod, Alfalfa, and Peck’s Bad Boy could express “cute” heterosexual puppy-love because their immaturity presumably made physical expression impossible.  But how would audiences react to a teenager, sexually mature, aggressively physical, expressing intense heterosexual desire even though he was five to ten years from the possibility of consummating that desire in the socially respectable institution of marriage? Early in the series, Louis B. Mayer complained, “If you let Andy get too crazy about girls, you’ll lose your audience!” (Crother, 1969: 239).  So MGM made sure that Andy’s girl-craziness was a childish affectation, to be overcome in manhood.  In Andy Hardy’s Double Life, a psychology student diagnoses it as “an infantile fantasy arousing from a subconscious fixation of youth.”  InLove Finds Andy Hardy,  Andy invites Polly Benedict to a dance at the Country Club:

Andy: [Looks away coyly.] There’s a lot of swell places where you can sneak out between the dances.

Polly: Really!  I think we’re getting much too old for that sort of thing – hugging and kissing!

Andy: [In a little boy voice.] Aw, I ain’t ever gonna get too old for huggin’ and kissin’!

His voice, his mannerisms, even his grammar becomes infantilized (he says huggin’ and kissin’, not hugging and kissing).  Later in the series, Andy frequently becomes the passive victim of vamps, golddiggers, and experienced “older women,” and he sometimes exhibits a masochistic passivity.  But even his flirtations with girls his own age are conducted in an oddly infantile manner: he wrings his hands, shrugs his shoulders, looks away, the very picture of a shy, timid schoolboy.

[32] Mickey Rooney’s Irish ethnicity was in itself presumed a feminizing trait in the 1930s.  Irishness was coded as urban, working class, Roman Catholic, and dangerous, in opposition to the safe, secure small town, middle class, Anglo-Protestant all-American boy. The Dead End Kids were specifically Irish delinquents; Frankie Darro played street kids with names like Buzzy O’Brien and Skipper Murphy; Mickey himself often played Irish-working class urchins against upper-crust Anglos.  The “social disorganization” of the working class was supposed to produce gender transgressions, feminine men and masculine women, and though Andy Hardy was Anglo-Protestant, having him played by an Irish actor added a sexual question to the role.  Thus, Andy is frequently coded as feminine or gender-transgressive.  In Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever,  he calls himself “the sensitive type,” code for “pansy.”  In  Andy Hardy’s Double Life, he is photographed ironing a lacy nightgown, and then blackmailed.  In Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, he encounters a toddler named Francis at an orphanage:

Andy: Hello, little girl.

Francis: [In a tough-guy pose.] I’m a boy, see?

Andy: You talk like a little girl.  How do you ever expect to grow up to be a big he-man?

Francis: [Sarcastically]  Like you?

[33] Likewise, in the early installments, Andy’s girl-craziness is a feminizing trait, the very antithesis of the scrappy, self-confident go-getter that defined boys from birth to manhood in the 1930s.   As a remedy, when Mickey took a break from the Andy Hardy series, he often selected characters with no interest in girls whatever.   In Young Tom Edison (1940), for instance, the virtues required of teenagers to successfully integrate into adult society are explicitly antithetical to hetero-romantic passion.   The screen-filling written prologue tells us: “This is a story of courage.  The courage and triumph of a typical American boy.”  “Typical” means that the youthful Tom sends prank telegraph messages, blows up the school chemistry lab, and innocently jeopardizes a railroad trip by bringing a bottle of nitroglycerine on board.  He has the Horatio Alger qualities of inquisitiveness, industry, and spunk, and more importantly, he never once thinks of, looks at, or mentions a girl.

[34] Henry Aldrich established that he was adequately manly in spite of his girl-craziness by beating up counterfeiters and hanging from a cliff, but the Andy Hardy plotlines were hardly amenable to displays of courage (Carvel had many con-artists, but no gangsters), so Andy proved his manliness through displays of strength.  Mickey Rooney had a tight, firmly toned physique, more defined than Weissmuller’s Tarzan, surpassed only by the adult Jackie Cooper, and he spent an amazing amount of screen time half-naked, bounding down the stairs in his undershirt, stripping down for bed or to bathe. In the 1930s, topless men were still barred from most beaches, but Andy goes swimming topless while on vacation in Catalina.

[35] Even though Andy lives in a Northern climate and many of the installments are set around Christmastime, there are always many plot excuses to get him into swimming pools, again shirtless, and wearing extremely revealing Speedo-style swim trunks instead of the baggy trousers then in style.  Love Finds Andy Hardy has two five-minute pool scenes, and Andy Hardy’s Double Life keeps the teenager in a swimsuit for about 1/4th of the total running time.  Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, the last of the series, seems positively obsessed with Andy’s semi-nude body.  He is fully clothed for only about 30% of the running time; otherwise he is wearing only an undershirt, stripped down for a bath, or in the swimming pool (even though it’s December).  The practice became so well-known that Girl Crazy (1943), which is not in the Andy Hardy series, contains an interesting tease: upon arriving at Cody College, tired and dusty, Danny (Mickey Rooney) announces that he’s going to take a shower, and then pauses a beat for audience laughter at the intertextual joke.

[36] This was the beginning of the “age of the chest” (Cohan, 1997: 165), a time in which the chest was being fetishized in both men and women (Davis, 1991; Dyer, 1992), but rarely exposed in movies about middle-class teenagers, lest they be presented too overtly as sexual beings.  Jackie Cooper takes his shirt off twice in twenty-odd adolescent movie roles, Jackie Moran twice, Frankie Thomas once, and Dickie Moore not at all.  The Dead End Kids spent a lot of time in their underwear, but they were playing working-class Irish delinquents, not middle-class “all-American boys.”  Displaying his physique allowed Andy strength, power, and manliness in spite of his feminizing girl-craziness.

[37] But eventually merely flexing muscles proved insufficient.  Andy’s girl-craziness had to be revised.  It no longer pointed toward the past, toward childish infatuations, but toward adult responsibility, toward “love and marriage and mother.”  The change begins in Andy Hardy Meets Debutante, which, perhaps significantly,  premiered on the Fourth of July weekend, 1940.  The plot is about patriotism: an orphanage is threatened with closure because its administrator “lost faith in his own country” and deposited its funds in a European bank, which defaulted.  There is a nighttime tour of the Statue of Liberty and an oration about “fighting for liberty.”  What could girl-craziness have to do with patriotism?

[38] At first, Andy’s girl craziness is still infantilizing.  Polly Benedict and Beezy lambaste Andy for keeping a scrapbook of pictures of debutante Daphne Fowler clipped from magazines:

Polly: Of all the ridiculous little boy exhibitions!  Collecting pictures of a perfectly awful girl that he’s never seen!

Beezy: [In a childish singsong.]  Andy’s got a crush on Daphne Fowler!

Andy angrily replies that it’s no puppy-love crush, about desire without the possibility of fulfillment: he actually knows Daphne Fowler and she is interested in him, so they would be dating but for the distance – he’s too young to travel to New York by himself.  But then Judge Hardy announces that the family will be spending three weeks in New York while he works on the orphanage case, and Andy’s friends goad him into bringing back a photo “proving” that he has a debutante girlfriend.  If he doesn’t, they will disgrace him by printing a humiliating photo in the Carvel High Olympian.

[39] Andy hatches several schemes to meet the debutante, but he only succeeds in charging up $36.50 for a fancy dinner and losing a $400 pearl tie stud.  Despairing, he tells Judge Hardy, “I just realized today that some people are better than me.”  The Judge, aghast, brings Andy to the NYU Hall of Fame and shows him the “Mighty Men of Old,” Revolutionary War-era patriots, who fought for freedom from class distinctions.  He lambastes Andy for “sniveling over class, money, social position” when there are important things to do in the world (one of the few oblique references to the War in the Andy Hardy series).  Re-energized, Andy finds a deus-ex-machina in Betsy Booth (Judy Garland), who happens to be a Manhattan sub-deb and Daphne Fowler’s close friend.  He gets his introduction and his photograph (it shows Daphne clinging hopefully to his shoulders), and returns triumphantly to Carvel High.  He happens to have Francis the Orphan in tow, and his friends assume that he is a father.  Even though he quickly corrects them, his girl-craziness has become a positive trait, connected with home, family, and America, with the aggressive masculinity of the all-American boy.

Beezy: I should have known better than to trifle with aman like Andy!

Polly: [To Andy.] Are you engaged to Daphne Fowler?

Andy: No.  [She’s] just another milestone in my career. . .can I help it if I have irresistible charm?

Polly: That’s not charm, that’s polygamy!  [Melting into his arms.]  But, oh Andy, how we women love it!

[40] Andy’s newfound masculinity places him in stark contrast with the effeminancy of the  the older generation.  Lewis Stone looks like a grandfather rather than a father, and plays Judge Hardy as thoughtful, slow-moving, crotchety, lacking in the robustness of youth.  But sometimes he deliberately takes on a feminine pose.  Andy comes home in the last scene of Debutante to find Judge Hardy mincing and limp-wristing about the drawing room in a mink stole.  As Andy gapes in amazement, we learn the “truth”: his father is modeling a gift to his wife.  Still, it would be more logical for Judge Hardy to ask his wife to model the gift rather than to pose as a drag queen.  Immediately afterward, Andy goes up to his room and arranges large photos of the girls he has acquired in this episode.  “How one’s women do add up!” he exclaims, correlating his own youthful masculinity with heterosexual practice.

[41] But heterosexual desire – and practice – never becomes an essential characteristic of Andy’s teenage masculinity.  It is always contradictory, problematized, sometimes adulated, but sometimes signifying effeminacy and even perversion.  In the last scene of his last movie, Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, Andy discards all of the photographs of girls that he’s accumulated, and vows to devote himself henceforth to mature “adult” pursuits.  Then a portrait of George Washington on the wall comes crashing down behind him, signifying that he is fibbing.

Girl Craziness Becomes Hegemonic

[42] Through World War II, Jackie Cooper remained uninterested in girls in his adventure roles; instead, he sparred-bonded with David Durand in the Universal serial Scouts to the Rescue (1939), Henry Fonda in The Return of Frank James (1940), and Robert Stack in Men of Texas (1942).  But in his domestic comedies, he followed the leads of Mickey Rooney and Jimmy Lydon and stayed squarely in the girl-crazy camp: inGangster’s Boy (1938), he has a girlfriend; inSeventeen (1940), he scrambles to acquire the funds for a swanky date with a sophisticated socialite; he “discovers” girl-next-door Jane Withers in Her First Beau(1941).

[43] Child star Dickie Moore had intense, dark eyes and a fragile, almost sickly appearance that became somewhat sensual in adolescence, like the consumptive glow of Camille.  His teenage characters were oblivious to girls in Gladiator (1938), Sergeant York(1941), and The Adventures of Martin Eden (1942); but inMiss Annie Rooney (1942), released in the spring of his seventeenth year, girl-craziness hit.  Dickie plays a poor little rich boy stricken with sassy wrong-side-of-the-tracks Shirley Temple. “Two weeks ago,” he gushes, “I was just Marty White, with practically nothing to live for.  And then – bingo!  You!” He gives Miss Temple her first screen kiss (on the cheek), and claimed later that it was also his first kiss, on screen or off.

[44] In Jive Junction (1943), Dickie plays a high school sissy who makes the painful transition from a snooty music conservatory to a rough high school, where he characterizes himself as “one of the girls” and gets a job accompanying an all-girl jive band (“and will we make the boys jealous!” he exclaims).  But  nevertheless a girl dumps her macho boyfriend for him, and eventually seduces him sufficiently for a smooching scene.  Adequately heterosexual, Dickie Moore afterwards concentrated on juvenile delinquency and film noir (Parish, 1976: 109-116), and in his personal life he “kept company” with nearly as many ladies as Mickey Rooney.

[45] In  MGM’s Best Foot Forward (1943),  Lucille Ball as a sarong-clad Dorothy Lamour parody fears that she is past her prime, but her agent insists that “the American boy wants you!”,  and to prove it, he talks her into accepting a prom date with Bud Hooper, a cadet at the Winsocki Military Academy.  Played by eighteen-year old Broadway hoofer Tommy Dix, Bud is short and slim, with early technicolor accentuating his soft, pretty features, rather too feminine to be an “all-American boy,” and with a skittishness around girls here presented as slightly suspect. His date with the film star makes him a hero among his aggressive, unrepentantly girl-crazy, prowling-wolf classmates, but the adults don’t agree: he is expelled from Winsocki for untoward heterosexual interest.  Miss Ball visits the General in charge and argues that heterosexual desire actually benefits young soldiers:

The Flying Tigers were full of Bud Hoopers, and do you know what they used on the field in Chung King to tell which way the wind was blowing?  One of my silk stockings!  You’re a soldier, General. . .it wouldn’t hurt your aim any if your rifle butt was resting against your sweetheart’s hankie, would it?

The last scene of the film has Bud, reinstated, singing “Buckle Down, Winsocki” as a superimposed American flag waves before hundreds of extras parading across the field at St. John’s Military Academy.  They are strong and confident, ready to fight to “protect” the girls waving at them from the bleachers.  Only three years ago, heterosexual interest was antithetical to adolescent masculinity, but now it is celebrated. Soon it will be required.

[46] After the War, new girl-crazy teenagers began appearing in comic books.  Archie (1941), Betty & Veronica (1950), Archie’s Pals & Gals(1952), and other titles about the girl-crazy teenager from Riverdale, U.S.A. were the most famous and the most enduring, but there were many others, a universe of Centervilles or Midvales where white middle class teenage boys drove jalopies, drank chocolate malteds, got into trouble with teachers, and gazed at girls:  Freckles and his Friends (1947), Oscar (1947), Penny (1947), A Date with Judy (1947),Meet Corliss Archer (1948), Leave It to Binky (1948), and so on.  Only a few endured through the 1950’s, only a few were created later, and only a few featured teenage boys not entirely obsessed with girls.  They appeared at a very precise moment in history, to teach the children who were buying most of the comics, especially the boys, that they should expect to spend their adolescence melting with lust over the other sex.  Similarly, on the radio, the old, clumsy, stuttering boys all but vanished, and some of the long-running radio teens who had previously been concerned with paper routes and bad report cards suddenly began casting longing glances at their female schoolmates:  Junior on  Life of Riley in January 1948, Leroy, the wisecracking nephew on The Great Gildersleeve, in March 1949, and Ozzie and Harriet‘s eldest son David in November 1951.

[47] In Rebel Without a Cause (1955), James Dean plays house with hetero-romance Natalie Wood as the wife, and relegates homo-romance Sal Mineo to the role of child. 1950’s teen idols like Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson, and Frankie Avalon ignored same-sex friendships in their endless evocations of the girl who would make their life worthwhile.  Girl-craziness no longer feminized middle-class boys, and same-sex relations were no longer essential to adolescent masculinity; instead, masculinity required teenage boys to abandon childhood chums for an exuberant, hormone-driven rush after girls.

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