Four Childhood Crushes
Anyway, my four are: Race Bannon from Jonny Quest, Jim West from the original Wild, Wild West, Mowgli from Disney’s Jungle Book (and the book, see below), and Major Don West from the original Lost In Space.
These guys weren’t my only childhood crushes, but they were standouts. I mentioned just last summer that I suspect that Chuck Connors’ character in The Rifleman might have been my first childhood celebrity crush, but I don’t remember the actual crush. I remember when the show was syndicated in reruns when I was in my teens being surprised at how familiar the show seemed, and that spawned a conversation with my Mom about how much Dad hated the fact that I (at age three) had loved the show. I did not mention to Mom the fact that while watching the first episode in rerun, almost all of my memories of the show were Connors’ shirtless scenes.
Anyway, one of the characteristics often shared by childhood crushes is that the child doesn’t understand the feelings they’re having at the time. I certainly wasn’t as self-aware as Amelia the Blogger‘s son who, at age six, knew the reason he liked the character Blaine on Glee was, in part, because Blaine was a boy who only kissed other boys. Since I was that age in the 60s, a few years before Stonewall and certainly long before any openly gay characters were appearing on TV, I didn’t have any reference frame for the feelings I was having.
Many years later, when I talked about some of these early signs of my queerness with certain friends and relatives, they tried to convince me I was deluding myself that I had had crushes on male characters. “You just thought they were cool. You were a fan.” That interpretation reinforces their belief that people are lured into being gay by sinful forces in adulthood.
There were lots of characters in pop fiction, both male and female, that I liked just because they were cool, or interesting, or whatever. How I distinguish the crushes is this: the characters that I was merely a fan of were always characters that I wanted to be. I wanted to be Samantha or Endora on Bewitched, for instance. I wanted to be Marshall Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. I wanted to be Spock on Star Trek (a show I watched when it was in Prime Time, by the way). I wanted to be Doris Day’s character in each of her movies and on her TV series.
Where as, when I watched Jonny Quest, I certainly wanted to be Jonny, but what I really, really, really wanted was to hang out with Race Bannon. I have very distinct recollections of playing Jonny Quest (both by myself and with a couple of kids that lived on my block) where the scenarios I made up almost always revolved around either Race rescuing Jonny and Hadji from some horrible danger, and/or Jonny nursing Race back to health after he had been horribly injured while rescuing Jonny (yes, apparently at four years old I had absorbed the cultural trope of hurt comfort stories). And who wouldn’t love Race? He was an athletic person, well-versed in martial arts, a crack marksman, and an expert at piloting everything from submersibles to jets.
Similarly, when I watched The Wild, Wild West, I never fantasized about being Special Agent Jim West. I often imagined myself as Artemis Gordon going on adventures with West. Or as the various characters that Jim rescued from the fiendish plots of the various outlandish villains West and Gordon fought each week. And, in an early sign of my obsession with villains, I often imagined myself in the role of the evil Dr. Miguelito Loveless. It’s a little disturbing now to remember the elaborate ways I came up with for Loveless to torture James West. In my scenarios, West not only escaped these various traps, but always captured Loveless (something they almost never managed to do in the series). And frequently in my fantasy sessions (acted out with various toys), there was always a lot of attention paid to James’ recovery from the injuries, and all the close personal care he required from someone after his ordeal.
The moment I met Mowgli is seared on my brain. I was sitting with several neighbor kids in a dark theatre during a Saturday matinee. I was only at the movie because the the parents of my best friend at the time had pre-purchased a series of pairs of kids matinee tickets at a local theatre, and then my friend’s older sister was off at some kind of camp for several weeks. They invited me to go in the sister’s place. Anyway, there we sat, surrounded by jillions of kids. I had a vague expectation that this Disney movie was going to be something like the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies that were shown on afternoon TV. I was totally not expecting the story of a boy raised by jungle animals, and his misadventures when it was decided to return him to a human village. I loved the songs! I loved Bagheera and Baloo! I both loved and loathed King Louis. I was fascinated and terrified of Shere Khan. I was frightened of and extremely amused by Kaa. I became totally obsessed with all things Jungle Book. I begged and pleaded with my parents, grandparents, et al, for the soundtrack record album, various books (I remember specifically a picture book with pop-out pages that could be transformed into a carousel). And among the gifts I received the following Christmas was a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s book, The Jungle Book. At first, I was a little disappointed that the books had almost no relation at all to the movie. But soon was just as enthralled by the literary Mowgli and his dramatic adventures as an adult living in the jungle. But the movie version was definitely my great love. Again, a sign that I had a crush on Mowgli and wasn’t just a fan is that I got in trouble with my Dad when he realized the reason I kept draping a sheet around myself and tried to balance a plastic bottle on my head while I sang along to the song “My Own Home” from the album was because I was trying to be the girl that lured Mowgli away from his jungle friends at the end of the movie.
Similarly, when I watched episodes of Lost In Space where we followed the adventures of the Space Family Robinson trying to get back to earth, the characters I most often wanted to be was either the young son, Will Robinson, or the eldest daughter, Judy Robinson. And my imagined adventures always involved the dashing Major Don West coming to the rescue. I was surprised, some years later when Lost In Space came back in syndication, to realize that Major West got less screen time than I remembered in most episodes. Obviously I was a bit fixated. I should note that Lost In Space was actually the source of another childhood crush, though it was a bit shorter lived than that on Major West. When the series first began Billy Mumy, who portrayed young Will Robinson, was eleven years old. I was five, and it was easy for me to identify with Will. As I said, I wanted to be Will. But by the time the series ended, the actor was 14 years old, and though he’s clearly not an adult, he wasn’t pre-pubescent any more, either. And I developed at least a bit of a crush on him.Before I end this, I wanted to share one more picture. While I was trying to find images of each of the characters and/or the actors who portrayed my crushes, I found this cute tidbit of Mark Goddard, from a few years before he landed the role of Major Don West. Definitely crush worthy, no?