Homo! is a provocative name for a story, one some readers may find distasteful or objectionable. And yet it’s important to keep in mind just how powerful the word homo was years ago to understand and appreciate the lead character in our story, a boy named Jimmy Barnes who’s fourteen years old when we first meet him in 1971.
For a long time I had planned to use another name for the lead character in Homo!, but late in my research on the story I came across a short film (or perhaps what we would call a public service announcement these days) named Boys Beware.
The film was directed by someone named Sid Davis and “produced with the cooperation of the Inglewood Police Department and the Inglewood Unified School District” in California (not far from Los Angeles International Airport).
Released in 1961, you can view the original version by clicking the link above. In the film a police officer named Lt. Williams narrates the fate of four boys who had the misfortune to encounter homosexuals at the park, the beach, or while getting ready to deliver their newspaper route.
Of the four stories, the most famous has been dubbed The Courting of Jimmy Barnes by some. Tired one day after a long afternoon playing baseball at the park, Jimmy decides to hitchhike a ride home. As fate would have it, he’s picked up by a balding, mustachioed, older man wearing sunglasses named Ralph.
Ralph turns out to be a homosexual. Who would have guessed? He’s also kind of creepy, but that’s probably predictable given his sexual orientation. Here’s a picture of Jimmy and Ralph together. By the way, does Jimmy look a bit old to be a junior high school student?
In any event, Ralph drives Jimmy home and gives him a playful pat on the shoulder after milking him for information about how he spends his time. Nothing happens, but only because Ralph is grooming Jimmy for what he has planned.
Over the course of the next five minutes we watch as Ralph buys Jimmy a Coke at a drive-in, takes him fishing, and plays miniature golf with him. As Lt. Williams helpfully reminds us, however, “payments are expected in return” for such generosity. Soon enough we see Jimmy climbing the stairs to the second floor of a seedy motel followed closely by Ralph.
Sadly, we never get to see what actually happens in the motel room, but we do learn that Jimmy finally gets it together enough to tell his parents what’s happening. Why he does that is never explained. Personally I’m guessing Ralph was lousy in bed and Jimmy was bummed out by that.
Whatever the reason, Ralph is arrested and sent away to the slammer while Jimmy gets to go home on probation with his doting all-American parents.
As I said, The Courting of Jimmy Barnes is only one of the four scenarios narrated in the film to warn young boys in California about the danger posed by homosexuals.
Another unsuspecting boy, Mike Merritt, accepts a ride home from a stranger after playing basketball at the park. In a commendable bow to diversity, a later version of the film portrays both Mike and the older man in question as black.
That undoubtedly explains why Mike “probably never realized until too late that he was riding in the shadow of death,” as Lt. Williams tells us. “Sometime that evening, Mike Merritt traded his life for a newspaper headline.”
Didn’t you just know it would be the black kid who got murdered? In addition to being black, Mike must have been stupid as well for deciding to accept a ride home from an older black man. Foolish, Mike, foolish! Everyone knows all black men are violent.
A third boy, Denny, is tricked into entering a man’s car to chase two boys the man claims stole a couple of bikes, but the man is arrested after Denny’s friend, Jerry, writes down the car’s license plate and gives it to Denny’s mother.
Like any good mother would do, she promptly reports the incident to the police and the police quickly track down and arrest the man. Being efficient like that, I’m betting they’re from the Inglewood Police Department.
Either that or the dude who tricked Denny was driving around somewhat aimlessly rather than quickly finding a place where he could molest the kid and then possibly kill him (although we can’t be certain that was the plan because Denny is white after all).
Or perhaps the dude didn’t have a job and just spent all day driving around town trying to pick up boys without having any plan about what to do once he had lured them into his car. We’ll never know.
Finally, a fourth boy, Bobby, has a narrow escape, having realized a bit late he was being tailed by a man who was in the beachside public restroom where he and his young friends had been earlier. Hmm … I wonder what those boys were doing in that restroom as there’s no indication they were swimming, that’s for sure.
Of the four boys chronicled, Bobby seems to have been the brightest and most alert, thank God! But even Bobby made the mistake of straying away from his friends.
“One never knows when the homosexual is about,” Lt. Williams intones solemnly. “He may appear normal. It may be too late when you discover that he is mentally ill.”
Not to be too heavy-handed about the whole thing, Lt. Williams reminds us that “the decision is always yours” although he then ups the pressure a bit by telling us “your whole future may depend on making the right one.”
Whew! Aren’t we lucky the three white boys survive their encounters, all of which conflate homosexuality and pedophilia; being one means you’re automatically the other.
In all four of the clips homosexuals are portrayed as creepy older men who are violent or sick and dress tastelessly to boot while the younger boys they prey upon are either too innocent or too doltish to have a clue what’s going on and just how mentally unbalanced these men are.
“What Jimmy didn’t know was that Ralph was sick. A sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious. A sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual: a person who demands an intimate relationship with members of their own sex.”
You can look at films like this today and shake your head, but they seem to have accurately captured the mood of the country back in the 1960s and 1970s. Boys Beware was later retitled Boys Aware and released again in a colorized version in 1973.
It uses the same script and soundtrack, but different actors. In this version Jimmy Barnes definitely looks younger than in the original; although you have to wonder a little about Jimmy because he seems positively enthralled with the new Ralph. And Lt. Williams does tell us after all that “Jimmy hadn’t enjoyed himself so much in a long time” as when he was around Ralph.
Still a third edition of the film was apparently produced in 1979; and even as recently as 2015 a high school teacher in Missouri was suspended after showing Boys Aware in one of his classes.
Of the four clips, the longest and best known is the one about Jimmy Barnes. Unlike the other boys, Jimmy is apparently guilty of some crime because he ends up on probation. But the exact nature of his crime is never made clear.
Whatever his crime may have been, I thought it appropriate to name my lead character in the story we begin next week Jimmy Barnes to present an alternative and hopefully more realistic version of what may have happened to him thanks to the kind of attitudes reflected in this public service announcement.
As I said earlier, do try to keep in mind just how powerful a word homo was years ago if you want to understand Jimmy. In any event, I hope you’ll come back on June 3rd and take a look at the story if it sounds like something that might appeal to you.
In the meantime, if you want a better appreciation for the attitudes homosexuals faced when our story takes place, you should definitely take a look at Boys Beware or Boys Aware, perhaps even both if you want to torture yourself with how tasteless men dressed back in the day.