The Other Lance
There is a post near the bottom of an IMDB message board by one salamander76 which declares "Lance Kerwin had to be the poster-boy for gay kids all across America. Only Robby Benson was close in terms of sheer gayness."
While that may have held true thirty years ago for gay Americans (and possibly, gay amphibians), as a warm-blooded gay Canadian growing up under the soul-blackening chill of Mr. Kerwin's long shadow, I cannot but consider this anything but perfidious slander.
The only posters of this adolescent hellspawn I ever owned were wanted posters, complete with centered rifle-scope and painted-on bullseye.
Now you may ask "How on earth could spazmo, a thousand miles removed from California and seven years his junior, possibly harbor any sort of animosity towards the good character of Hollywood's highest-paid child actor?"
That's a fair question -- by way of reply, let me say a word about pre-adolescent crushes: gay kids get them too, and they're almost always "straight".
Yep. Twenty-five years ago, I liked girls. Obsessed over them, actually.
Coveted them. Made a little fool of myself over the chlorine-bleached blonde swimming sensation the next locker over, pestered my cousin mercilessly for phone numbers and addresses of all her prettiest classmates, and rifled intently through her copies of Tiger Beat for the latest candid shot of TV's Sabrina Duncan or Letitia "Buddy" Lawrence.
I paid little attention to the likes of their scrubbed and salubrious male counterparts; the Jimmy McNichols, Leif Garretts, and David Cassidys all left me cold (ok, maybe David's brother Shaun was beginning to work his magic on me), so I had no use for those breathless gossipy boy-hunk blurbs that kept those types of mags flying off the newsstands.
So at this point, the name Lance Kerwin meant nothing to me.
But his face was about to launch a thousand (jealous) fits.
The odyssey of hate would begin in 1976, with an awful little ABC special called "Me and Dad's New Wife" which starred my future bride-to-be Kristy McNichol. It was a dippy affair, and though Kristy handled herself capably, it was soon all but forgotten by me. And yet already the seeds of envy had been subconsciously sown. The capture below records the presence of a certain blond, bob-nosed actor I would fatefully come to regard as The Enemy.
Look at him sitting there, the very picture of smug.
He's thinking "I already have a career plan! Eat my dust, dorks."
So we fast forward a bit, while Kerwin's star is quietly gathering mass.
Suddenly, it's the year 1977: the Annus Mirabilis of my youth -- ABBA-mania is in full swing, Star Wars hits theatres, Fleetwood Mac releases Rumours, Three's Company comes knocking...and Lance Kerwin's career goes supernova.
The shockwave hits me squarely between the eyes during network primetime on the 29th of January, '77. It's an episode of Wonder Woman called "The Bushwhackers".
If there was a boy who twirled, transformed, and lassoed more often than I in those days I'd surely like to meet him. I truly would. Lynda Carter was my idol, and here was this pugnacious little twit getting hired and abundantly rewarded for swaggering smugly all over my private stretch of celebrity shrinebuilding.
The Bushwhackers episode was nothing but season filler anyway. A feel-good romp smothered in Ranch dressing -- Kerwin shows up as Roy Rogers'(WTF?) emotionally wounded son, betraying the Amazon's trust by stealing her Golden Girdle and putting everyone's lives in danger.
Perversely, his character makes a dramatic moral recovery in the closing minutes of the show thanks to Wonder Woman. The exact amount of bile this scene generated in my living room that night can never be accurately measured, but one thing was certain: the Gates of Hell had opened, and Lance Kerwin was striding cocksurely from the flames...
There were plenty of other things to watch of course, in those halcyon pre-cable days. One of the most popular offerings was The Six Million Dollar Man. Steve Austin simply rocked the playground. I don't think children even spoke to each other during recess; they just emitted bionic sounds.
Or some rough approximation thereof.
It was all great fun, but I remained oddly standoffish -- until the cyborg landscape was gloriously refreshed by the debut of the Bionic Woman.
Where Lynda was busty and regal, Lindsay was gutsy and winsome. Wonder Woman never had a "Wonder Man" to compete with, yet the Bionic Woman explosively emerged from her spinoff status as a critical success and a ratings bonanza.
I viewed every new episode of the first season as a gift from the gods.
Lindsay Wagner was better than a princess and more than an icon; she was attainable.
She was my earthly muse.
The second season premiered with a bang and progressed stunningly. Each episode shattered my expectations and whipped me into a frenzied lather.
And then February, 1977. The show was winding down for the year, and sweeps had just passed. After a two-week break, a brand new episode "Jaime and the King" was aired. Plot breakdown? An Arabian king friendly to the west is threatened with assassination and Jaime is assigned to his palatial compound as a security mole. She deploys her bionics to thwart the assassins, but in the meanwhile is forced to act as a belly-dancing governess to the spoiled royal scion.
Any guesses as to who was cast in the role of said pubescent prince?
If you guessed the Prince of Darkness himself, you're right!
Even at the tender age of ten, I could sense something was very wrong with the balance of power in the universe. The spread of Kerwin's appeal was hitting epidemic proportions, yet nobody seemed to be making the least effort to enact emergency countermeasures, let alone develop a vaccine.
His next major assault upon my blistered, ravaged psyche was the TV movie "James at 15". It was marketed as "cutting edge", and as I remember, opened with an alluringly grave title card marking it for mature audiences only.
Of course I couldn't not watch the thing. It was going to be the playground discussion topic of the season. (I might have been something of a social misfit in those days, but I was no cultural ignoramus.)
So there I sat, legs crossed, fists balled, courageously allowing the toxic spray of Kerwin's thespic depravity to wash over me. And who should make an appearance?
My beloved Mary Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie as Kerwin's girlfriend!
To pair Melissa Sue Anderson with this arrogant hellspawn-in-hushpuppies was to me the height of bad taste, or so I thought, until the monstrous moment where "James" decides to embark on an impromptu roadtrip and hooks up with...
I can't say it.
It still hollows me out inside to even think about it.
Despite the numerous outrages I had endured up to this point, nothing could have prepared me for the sequence where Curwin (Lovecraftian spelling) begins a hitchhiking adventure with... *sob* Kate Jackson!
The sight of the two of them frolicking shamelessly (and they did indeed frolic) drove me to the very threshold of madness. It felt like a barbed, flaming scimitar had been plunged into my vitals, never to be removed.
Somehow I managed to crawl to the television and shut it off. My heart had never suffered such anguish. The tireless vigor that youth (and two bowls of Rum 'n Raisin ice-cream) provides a normal ten-year old child had fled my extremities.
Helplessly I sank to the floor of the TV room -- now my temple of betrayal.
I may have actually stopped breathing for a minute or two.
But what did I care?
Moloch had claimed and devoured my innocence.
The Beast of Newport Beach had won.
And to the victor, the spoils.