"Tea and Sympathy" is a phrase synonymous with homosexuality. (My first column, in ICON Magazine, was called "Bellini, Tea and Sympathy.") So recently I decided to watch the famed 1956 film, as it is one of the key Hollywood movies about homosexuality. Or so I thought.
It's the story of a sweet, quiet boy who wants to be a folk singer. He lives at a boarding school that emphasizes sports and manhood, two things he's terrible at, yet he doesn't seem to have any sexual inclination towards other guys, many of whom are lickable. They call him Sister Boy and taunt him mercilessly because he is different. So maybe it's actually about non-conformity.
The coach's wife takes pity on him. She tries to set him up with girls, but when he finally builds up the courage to go see a hooker, but is so repulsed by girl cooties that he freaks out, grabs a knife and puts on a big show of attempting suicide. At the end of the movie, the faculty wife finds him in a magical art-directed forest. They fuck and she delivers the immortal line "Years from now, when you speak of this, and you will, be kind." Meaning what, exactly? Don't depict her as an old hag? (She's played by Deborah Kerr, at the height of her perfect beauty.) So maybe it's actually about intergenerational love affairs.
This jumbled mess was directed by gay director Vincente Minnelli, more famous as Liza's dad and Judy's husband. He was actively gay even during the marriage, but back in the '50s, if you were married with a child, you were a regular guy. Minnelli was also famous for his colour cinematography. Hot boys, bright colours. The only real gay content in Tea and Sympathy comes from the director himself.
What a shitty era for gays in the movies. Everything covert, hidden, alluded to, villified. The play, written by heterosexual Robert Anderson, is clearly autobiographical. In the end, we find out that the folk singer went on to get married and have kids, because that is what everyone, including cocksuckers like Vincente Minnelli, did back then. In retrospect, Tea and Sympathy may be about homophobia, but it has nothing to do with homosexuality.