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Seminal stories: riots in front of the Stonewall Inn in the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969, quickly became an emblem of the modern-day pride movement. So why weren't they on the front page of The Advocate?

Let's be honest. In the world of magazine publishing, a good-looking man almost always trumps a riot. Still, the choice to picture a young, naked Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy on the cover of The Advocate's September 1969 issue and run the Stonewall uprising on page 3 seems a bit misguided. At least initially.

While it's impossible to dispute the importance of the Greenwich Village riots, Midnight Cowboy was, in its own way, seditious. It was one of the first commercial films to deal with homosexuality and remains the only X-rated film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. (In 1971 the film industry's ratings board changed it to R.)

Adapted from a 1965 novel by James Leo Herlihy, Midnight Cowboy is a story about the relationship between a dim-witted hustler named Joe Buck (Voight) and Ratso, a gimpy con man played by Dustin Hoffman, set in a rampantly depraved New York City. Critical acclaim for the film varied from gushing to horrified. The Advocate's Jay Ross called it "an excellent picture" and said Jon Voight "explodes with more facets than a geodesic dome." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "Midnight Cowboy is so rough and vivid that it's almost unbearable." Variety deemed it a "sordid saga."

When Playboy magazine asked John Wayne in 1971 which films he found perverted, he didn't hesitate. 'Wouldn't you say that the wonderful love of those two men in Midnight Cowboy, a story about two fags, qualifies?... As far as a man and a woman is concerned, I'm awfully happy there's a thing called sex. It's an extra something God gave us. I see no reason why it shouldn't be in pictures. Healthy, lusty sex is wonderful."

The two friends in Midnight Cowboy are never actually characterized as gay. And Wayne's opinion is ironic, considering Joe Buck identifies so strongly with the Duke's masculinity. In one of the film's most memorable scenes, Ratso criticizes Joe's cowboy persona:

"That great big dumb cowboy crap of yours don't appeal to nobody except every jockey on 42nd Street. That's faggot stuff!"

Joe, stuttering with shame, replies: "John Wayne! You wanna tell me he's a fag?"

Disapproval from a conservative screen actor probably didn't come as surprise, but Wayne wasn't alone in finding fault with the film. "It was not viewed kindly in, as it were, gay society," director John Schlesinger told Interview magazine. "it was viewed as somewhat antigay, which I'd never intended.... I think if you look at it with a sort of gay sensibility and want everything to be positive about gay life, it could be interpreted as antigay."

With Midnight Cowboy, Schlesinger pushed the boundaries of American cinema and expanded filmgoers' idea of love to include homosexuality. But he knew his limits. In an interview with Premiere after the directors death, Dustin Hoffman remembered how Schlesinger encouraged his actors' input.

"[One day] we went to Schlesinger and said, "We've got it. John, we've got to have a scene where they're in bed together.' And Schlesinger just paled. Schlesinger was gay and made no bones about it, didn't hide it when a lot of people did, and he said, 'Oh, God no, we can't do that. We're not going to have anyone coming to see this as it is."'

The Advocate saw it, recognized its significance, and gave Midnight Cowboys good-looking man the play he deserved.
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Title Annotation:The Advocate 40th anniversary
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Mar 13, 2007
Previous Article:More than a feeling.
Next Article:Comfort zone: we know very well why we get short shrift from politicians. Gays are a liability; we make voters uncomfortable. Right? Maybe not, says...

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