My Celebrity Crushes by
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Prompted By The Crush

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In July of 2018, Arthur Andrew Gelien died. I knew him as Tab Hunter and had his picture pasted in a scrapbook devoted to my celebrity crushes. I was my granddaughter’s age when I swooned to his song Young Love and watched him in the movie Damn Yankees. He was cute and, like several of my crushes, a closeted gay man. I’m pretty sure I had no idea what gay meant back then. And I never wondered who on earth would name their child Tab.

Tab Hunter — so cute

I also liked James Encolani, AKA James Darren. Like Tab, he appeared in movies and recorded songs. When I was 14, I fell hard for him in his role of Moondoggie in Gidget and a couple of years later, I bought his 45 recording of Goodbye Cruel World. Anyone remember that one? He was going to become a “broken-hearted clown” because “a mean, fickle woman turned my whole world upside-down.” How could she? He was so good looking.

James Darren and Sandra Dee in Gidget

Then there were Merle Johnson Jr. (Troy Donohue) and Ray Scherer Jr. (Rock Hudson). Again, what’s with those names? Troy had many small movie and television roles until he was cast opposite Sandra Dee in A Summer Place in 1959. He appeared in a TV show called Surfside 6 and several movies. By the time I was finishing high school, he was pretty popular and received tons of fan mail. That was the equivalent of twitter followers back then. Rock Hudson’s name implied he was a strong leading man as well as a heartthrob for his female followers. He made many movies, including those that paired him with Doris Day. Sadly, he was also a closeted gay man who died from AIDS complications back in 1985.

Troy Donohue

Rock Hudson with Doris Day

During my preteen and early teen years, I was a bit obsessed with magazines like Seventeen, Photoplay, and Teen Parade. My friends and I had great debates over which TV doctor was the hottest. You were either in love with Dr. Kildare (Richard Chamberlain) or Ben Casey (Vince Edwards).  Chamberlain, like many of my crushes back then, was gay. While he went on to have a long career in television and movies, it was Dr. Kildare that I loved. True to form, the girl who thought Paul was the cutest Beatle preferred him to the gruff Dr. Casey.

Richard Chamberlain as the adorable Dr. Kildare

Perhaps my dumbest television crush was Edward Breitenberger (Edd Byrnes), AKA Kookie, on 77 Sunset Strip. His claim to fame on that show about detectives was that he constantly combed his gorgeous mop of hair while serving as the parking attendant who sometimes helped the private eyes. He was hip and eventually recorded the one-hit wonder Kookie, Kookie – Lend Me Your Comb with Connie Stevens.

Edd “Kookie” Byrnes

The thing these crushes had in common was their innocence and sexually safe appeal. They were cute boys with good hair and friendly smiles. Today I feel a bit wistful and sad about Tab Hunter’s death. I’m glad he was able to become his authentic self and that he died in the arms of Allan Glaser, his partner of 35 years. And I’m glad the entertainment industry no long feels it is necessary to christen young men with names like Tab, Rock, Rory, or Troy to strip them of their identity, either ethnic or sexual, to make them appealing and safe for young girls who put their photos in their scrapbooks or on their walls.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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  1. All of the above, plus Elvis. And Fabian. Even Johnny Tilotson (sp?)—remember him?

  2. Beautifully sensitive story, Laurie! Looks like you, too, still have your scrapbooks? I remember the Dr. Kildare vs. Ben Casey debate…I was firmly in the Dr. Kildare camp, and loved him even more in the steamy Thorn Birds. I had a deep, deep crush on Johnny Mathis and danced with my pillow to his voice, imagining kissing him, that it was me he was singing to. I even went to see him on my 14th birthday. Interesting how so many of us chose safe and truly unavailable crushes.

  3. Risa Nye says:

    Laurie! I think we crushed on many of the same guys! Moondoggie (swoon)! I’d add Michael Landon (in his Ponderosa days) to my list. A fun read!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      OMG, Risa, I forgot Michael Landon, especially as Little Joe. He was pretty good on Little House on the Prairie, which I watched with my daughters while secretly still crushing on him. So sad he died young.

  4. Wow, what innocent days and innocent crushes we had on those film and TV dreamboats!
    And sad that so many of them had to live hidden lives,. So much better today when an openly gay man is campaigning for the presidency!
    (And what a better president he’d be than the current office holder!)

  5. Marian says:

    Love all the photos, Laurie, and the magazine cover cracked me up! Fascinating that we both had crushes on men (in my case more of a boy) that were gay and in the closet. I guess there was a safety aspect in that way. I always like Sean Connery, though, and he probably would be my least safe celebrity crush.

  6. Suzy says:

    Great story, Laurie. I remember all the celebrities you list, but the only one I also had a crush on was Dr. Kildare. He was so much dreamier than that cranky Ben Casey! I’m disappointed that you didn’t mention our mutual crush Paul except in an aside. Would love to hear your Paul stories.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Ah yes, Suzy, those Paul stories. I still find him attractive. Of course you saw him on Carpool Karaoke — that was the best! Did you see the movie Yesterday? Sappy but a must for Paul-lovers. I still cry every time I hear Hey Jude.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    Wonderfull story, Laurie. I particularly like the attention to all the name changes and keeping the public from knowing about the true sexuality of the leading men of that era. So many closeted (and handsome) gay men that we all loved. It is a relief to know that Hollywood can let these men be themselves now.

    I, too, loved Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds…whew! I was just a bit younger than you, and didn’t watch most of the other shows you discuss (or at least, my parents didn’t and they ruled the TV). I think it’s great that Neal Patrick Harris played a Lothario character on “How I Met Your Mother” for something like 8 seasons, while quietly coming out. But I didn’t have a crush on Doogie Houser, MD.

    Impressive list of teen crushes and great story, Laurie.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. It would appear that I watched too much tv, which is probably true. My crushes were always very safe and good looking guys, totally unattainable of course. I’m glad gay actors can be open about who they are now. I keep thinking about your story and admire how brave you were to reach out to your crush. I would have been too timid to do it. And then, to be so disappointed after being so brave and excited about the dance. That was truly an awful teen experience and I could totally empathize with how you felt.

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