Sunday, October 25, 2009

70s TV Exposure, Volume 2: Hair Supply

In Volume 1, the subject of super-tight or otherwise revealing pants on the men of 70s television was examined. In Volume 2, we take a look at that other fascinating aspect of 1970s male dress: the preposterously unbuttoned shirt!

At some point in the decade, men seemed to make a conscious decision to stop buttoning their shirts about halfway up. I’m not complaining, however, because it was a great time for those who like glimpsing the (then often hirsute) male physique.

Ricky Nelson, who figured in Volume 1 for his impossibly revealing jeans, kept his top half visible as well. What’s fun about this picture, apart from his open shirt and gold chain, 70s staples if there ever were any, is the huge fur coat he dons with it all.

Anyone who watched 70s TV, particularly game shows, will recognize Dick Gautier. He played Robin Hood in a short-lived Mel Brooks produced TV comedy called When Things Were Rotten. The original Conrad in Bye, Bye Birdie on Broadway and later appearing on Get Smart, he epitomized the pseudo-suave, disco-era look that dominated the times. Though his chest wasn’t hairy, it was often on display, framed by gold necklaces and garish polyester shirts. He also had the disarming habit of crinkling up his forehead in order to make it look as if his hair was coming foreward! Once seen, this cannot be forgotten.

One of my early crushes was the burly, hairy, hunky Martin Kove. Martin kicked around in low-budget movies and guest-starred on many series before finally getting a regular gig on Cagney & Lacey. In the opening credits for that show, he was depicted changing in the precinct house locker room, sending many a teenage boy to bed happy! In the 70s, when he wasn’t playing a thug or henchman, he could often be scene working his stuff in half-open shirts. These caps are from The Nancy Drew Mysteries.

Starsky & Hutch was a wildly popular TV cop show (later reworked into a movie by Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.) Paul Michael Glaser seemed to miss no opportunity to show his very furry chest. Many people fondly remember the shot of the pair dressed only in shoulder holsters and little towels! It was said that the show hinged on a sense of platonic love between the guys, who were always leaning on each other as their girlfriends came and went, though this was typical of shows of that time. The Cartwrights of Bonanza and The Barkleys of The Big Valley went through love interests like water!

One of the many sci-fi programs that rode the coattails of Star Wars’ success was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, an update of an old newspaper strip and 1930s movie serial. This time out, Buck was played by Gil Gerard, who wore a skintight, white bodysuit. Most of the clothing he wore when out of uniform was open-chested. Publicity shots for the show also featured him in gloriously tacky gold lame. In season two, his costume was radically altered in an attempt to mask his weight gain. A few years ago, Gil was the subject of a reality show based on his, by then, massive gain and subsequent loss.

Robert Urich played Dan Tanna on Vegas (after first portraying the love interest of Tabitha, a little-known Bewitched spin-off!) He was yet another actor who rode the gold chain and open shirt wave until it became a laughable cliché. Any tackiness he displayed on the series was handily outdone by recurring costar Tony Curtis, however. After starring in a long list of TV series of various success, Urich was felled by cancer at too young an age.

When people think of 1970s open shirts (and tight jeans as well) Gary Sandy of WKRP in Cincinnati is a name that often comes to mind. It was just the way things were! True, not too many really old guys went in for it (thankfully), but some did.

Open shirts were even present on children’s Saturday morning TV programs! Sid & Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost ran for a couple of seasons and featured Wesley Eure. (Actually, he was billed as just ‘Wesley’ on the show upon the advice of his agent.) This iconic series was recently fiddled with by Will Ferrell on the big screen, minus the unforgettable blonde braids of female costar Kathy Coleman. Eure, who had worked on Days of Our Lives for many years, later became a frequent Password Plus celebrity guest.

In the Underworld, one 70s TV actor reigns supreme in the exposed hairy chest category (with Robert Conrad right in there as well for his unzippable flight suit on Baa Baa Black Sheep) and that is Mr. Lee Majors. As The Six Million Dollar Man, he was placed in a variety of get-ups emblematic of the era. Married at the time to Farrah Fawcett, the couple delighted in showing off their matching exercise wear and projecting the image of “the perfect couple.” However, that would soon be over once he left to film a movie and she left him for his “friend” Ryan O’Neal!

Somewhere along the line (thanks to either conservative government or the AIDS crisis or a shift towards more elegant looks?) we left behind this era of letting it all hang out. And many folks cheered when it was no longer fashionable to quit buttoning up midway. Some of these men wouldn't even be considered handsome in these spray-tan, six-pack, baby-smooth times, but they personified the "macho" sensibility that was prevalent then. It certainly made this little fruit's heart go pitter-patter to see his favorite men this way! Oh, and fans of Mr. Conrad, please don’t despair. He figures into Volume 3 of the 70s TV Exposure, which will be posted some time in the near future!


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