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A Warm Farewell to the Hearthrobs & Divas of "Downton Abbey"

MenofdowntonIt may be PBS, but even they know that beefcake is a key component among the mix of program elements (especially when asking for donations from viewers).  The hunks of Downton Abbey made the viewing experience just a bit sweeter, and the divas added a touch of spice.  And although most men of any social class would look great in formal wear, DA's heartthrob characters listed below still maintained their debonair good looks even in more casual attire - or no clothing at all. 




Matthew Crawley

Dark and swarthy is what I prefer, but even I was smitten by the charming and dashing Matthew.  And what a pity Dan Stevens, the actor who portrayed him, left for Broadway and Hollywood, because that decision proved fateful for his beloved character.


Tony Gillingham

Of course, if Matthew hadn't been killed off, the delectable Tony Gillingham wouldn't have been introduced (nor Charles Blake, see below).  But when he and Lady Mary spent the night together at the hotel in Liverpool, what was it about Tony's bedroom performance, or pillow talk, that made Mary decide that they wouldn't be a good fit?


In addition to being a footman, James saw himself as a bit of a gigilo.  He was also the object of Thomas' affections, which was revealed to all when Thomas made the moves on him, thanks to O'Brien's scheming .

 Thomas Barrow

Thomas became a bit thicker in the middle in the show's last few seasons - perhaps as homophobia took its toll?

Charles Blake

He professed his deep affection for Lady Mary at the same time as Tony Gillingham. He would have been a good partner for Lady Mary because his personality was similar to that of Matthew's. 


Mr. Drewe

Mr. Drewe, a farmer who never smiled (perhaps it was due to his wife obsessing over Marigold and ignoring her own children).  I was always hoping for a scene that found him with his shirt off, or at least unbuttoned, but it never happened.

Tom Branson

Tom was kind and smart, with the sweetest Irish brogue. Like Thomas, his sex appeal diminished somewhat as he put on a few pounds in the last two seasons (after this scene was shot).


Jack Ross

Ross was the American jazz singer who stole Lady Rose's heart.  Lady Mary kindly, but firmly, saw to it that he called off his engagement to Rose.

Kemal Pamuk

Ah, the dashing Mr. Pamuk from Turkey. Although he appeared in just one episode, his ill-fated ravishing of Lady Mary in her bedroom in the third episode of Season 1 will not soon be forgotten.


You may have noticed that Henry Talbot is not one of the hunks.  It's because he left me cold.  While I loved watching any scene between Lady Mary and Matthew, or her and Tony Gillingham or Charles Blake, I didn't feel any sparks between Mary and Henry - despite their professed passion for each other.





Yes, she was responsible for Cora's miscarriage and for urging Thomas to make a play for Jimmy that nearly got him fired, but truth be told, I was as upset by her departure (she went to India) as I was with Matthew's death.


Lady Mary

I liked Mary.  Despite her occasional imperious manner and utter contempt towards sister Edith, she consistently showed kindness and compassion to others, upstairs as well as downstairs. And she was always the epitome of style.


The Dowager's butler, Spratt was like a 7-year-old, always pouting and complaining openly to her.  For whatever reason the Dowager put up with him.


Thomas Barrow

A second appearance by Mr. Barrow!  (Matthew also had his diva moments).  He was always scheming and then feeling sorry for himself.


The Dowager Countess

The Dowager (Violet or Granny to family members) did not suffer fools gladly. She did, however, enjoy sparring with cousin Isobel.  Based on the kerfuffle over the town's hospital, it's likely she would not be a fan of Obamacare.



Like the Dowager, Carson was resistant to change. He was loyal to Robert and tender with Mary, but he could be a prick with most everyone else.

Lady Rosamund

She offered wise counsel to all of her nieces and knew how to get a rise out of her brother, Robert, and their mother, Violet.  The fact that she was unlucky in love might have been at the root of her occasional bitchiness. 



Favoite Quotes from Season 3 of "Downton Abbey" - From a Gay Perspective

Downton_abbey_posterOf course, Downton Abbey has been embraced by viewers of all sexual orientations.  However, the witty repartee and subtle putdowns remind me of the gay social whirl of New York.  And the show's dining scenes, whether upstairs or downstairs, brought back vivid memories of meals during summer weekends at the Pines.  With that said, here are some of my favorite lines from Season 3 - and, no, they weren't all said by Maggie Smith's character!  (Since some are based on my memory, they may not be the exact word-by-word quote).


"Come war and peace, Downton still stands and the Crawley's are still in it!" - Exclaimed somewhat sarcastically by Cora's American mother (Shirley MacLaine) upon her arrival.




"Oh, you two are dressed for a barbecue." - Sarcastic remark made by Cora's mother to Robert and Matthew who, because of a wardrobe mix-up, arrived for a soiree in their morning suits rather than black tie.  Shortly thereafter, the dowager countess (Maggie Smith) asks a butler for a drink, only to realize it's Sir Robert.

"My beauty, my baby." - Lady Grantham saying goodbye to Sybil, perhaps one of the most beautifully sad moments of the entire season.




"Because if we'd listened to him Sybil might still be alive, but your father and Sir Phillip knew better and now she's dead." - Lady Grantham explaining to the family, with barely concealed contempt, why she needs to write an apology to the family doctor who was very concerned about Sybil's condition but his concern went unheeded. 

"You'll make me untidy" - Mary's demur response to Matthew after she had just finished dressing for dinner and a weary Matthew asked her to join him on the bed.




"Have you changed your pills?" - Matthew's mother to the dowager countess after she surprises her during dinner with an uncharacteristically progressive comment about a woman's role. 

"It seems a pity to miss such a lovely pudding". - The dowager's response to Robert's disrupting the ladies of Downton attending a luncheon at cousin Isobel's home.  He demanded, unsuccessfully, they leave because they were being served by Ethel, who had fallen into prostitution after leaving Downton and bearing a bastard son.




"You have surrounded this house with a miasma of scandal." - The dowager to Matthew's mother Isobel after she employs former Downton maid Ethel who turned to prostitution after being fired and having a child. Also, Mr. Carson's enunciation of the word "prostitute" was priceless because it was said with such contempt.

"Mr. Carson, I am not foul." - After being berated by Carson, who used the word "foul" to describe Thomas' homosexuality, Thomas turns and says this as he's about to leave the room.




"My, my - vile and disgusting? Well now, I will have to hear all about it!" - Mrs. Hughes' response to Thomas when he tells her that the act that got him into trouble was too vile and disgusting for her to hear.

"Oh, I didn't realize you were a fan of Mr. Oscar Wilde" - O'Brien to Bates upon discovering why she was invited to the new home of Bates and Anna (so he could talk to her about the Thomas-Jimmy situation).

"Her ladyship's soap."- Bates whispered this to O'Brien in hopes of persuading her to stop Jimmy's intention to go to the police if Carson gives Thomas a decent reference.




"Criminy, if I screamed blue murder every time a chap at Eton tried to kiss me I'd have been hoarse in a month ..." - Lord Robert to Bates after Bates tells him what happened between Thomas and Jimmy, and how Jimmy and Alfred reacted.

"When you're like me, you have to read the signs best you can, because no one dare to speak out." - Thomas trying to explain to Carson why he thought Jimmy might reciprocate his interest.




"So they say" - Edith's rather dismissive response to her editor's comment about how London society gushed over how lovely Lady Mary looked at her wedding. 

"That's what Sybil would want" - Lady Grantham, Mary and Tom often said this to Robert anytime he was resistant to something they want to do.


I'd love to hear your favorite lines as well.





"The Lost Language of Cranes" Airs on PBS (June 24, 1992)

David_leavittLost_language_of_cranes_novelAuthor David Leavitt (pictured) was only 25 when his novel The Lost Language of Cranes was published in 1986.  Six years later it aired on PBS on the evening of June 24.  (Cranes was produced by the BBC and first aired in the UK in 1991.)  It tells the story of a young man, Philip, who comes out to his parents and later learns that his father is a closeted homosexual.  Although the novel is set in New York City, the movie, perhaps because it was produced by the BBC, takes place in London.  When it aired in the US a number of scenes showing frontal nudity were edited out. 


Lost_language_of_cranesI wasn't familiar with the novel so it wasn't until I watched the PBS telecast that I learned that the "cranes" weren't the birds but rather mechanical ones at seaports that lift cargo in and out of ships.  (However, this is never fully developed to show how it tied into the story.)  An interesting subplot concerns Philips boyfriend who is the adopted son of a gay couple, which seemed quite progressive for the early 1990's.  (One of the father's was played by openly gay director John Schlesinger.)


Lost_language_of_cranes_pbsBefore Cranes there had been TV movies in which either a child or a parent dealt with his/her homosexuality, but this was the first to have a parent and a child both coming to terms with their homosexual nature.  As the movie ends life for father and son appears to hold promise but the wife/mother is left with perhaps the greatest challenges.  (One line of dialogue I remember most vividly was spoken by Philips exasperated mother in response to her husband's revelation and the fact that her son is also gay.  She says "My life's the punch line of some stupid joke.")      



AIDS Drama "Andre's Mother" Airs on PBS (March 7, 1990)

Andres_motherWhen I read of actress Sada Thompson's death in February 2011 I was disappointed that her obituary in the New York Times didn't mention her performance in the TV movie Andre's Mother which she starred in with Richard Thomas and Sylvia Sidney (gay playwright Terrence McNally won an Emmy for its screenplay).  It aired on PBS stations the night of March 7, 1990.  In the movie Thompson portrayed a rigid, grieving mother dealing with her son Andre's death from AIDS.  


The storyline focused on her angry reaction to his partner's attempts at reaching out to her (played by Thomas).  Sidney played her mother, Andre's understanding grandmother.  Interestingly, Sidney had a similar role in the 1985 TV movie An Early Frost.  The movie has a lovely ending in which friends of Andre gather in Central Park and pay tribute to his life by letting go of white colored balloons - including his mother.   


I was on a date the night of the movie and we watched it together up in his penthouse apartment at 45 Christopher St.  He was in the middle of some drama with his Parisian ex and that ultimately was the reason nothing futher developed between us.  Nonetheless it was enjoyable watching the movie with him on that night.   

Pioneering Reality Series "An American Family" Debuts on PBS (January 11, 1973)




An American Family debuted on Thursday, Jan. 11, 1973 on PBS stations.  This pioneering reality series followed the lives of the upper middle class Loud family of Santa Barbara, California.  And while it was a groundbreaking show for various reasons (it was not The Brady Bunch!), for the purposes of ZeitGAYst it was most noteworthy for the Loud's 21-year-old son Lance (below), who came out in one of the episodes.


Lance loud

In a post I wrote about a young gay man who was the subject of a 1986 cover story in Newsweek ("Growing Up Gay") , I mentioned how courageous it was for him to agree to do it - and that was thirteen years after Lance Loud's public declaration.  The social environment in 1973 was very different, e.g. the gay liberation movement was relatively new and homosexuality was still considered a mental illness (it would be declassified as one at the end of 1973).  Lance was very brave; his coming out was a huge step forward for the nascent gay movement because it brought into the living rooms of America a real family with an openly gay family member.




After the series concluded (at the end of March) Lance's celebrity continued.  Like countless other reality participants who would follow him, Lance was the first to become famous simply for being on TV.  He rubbed elbows with Andy Warhol, appeared on talk shows, and wrote occasional columns for the Advocate and Interview.  


I was 15 at the time and remember my mother and older sister watching the series, but I myself never sat down to watch.  Although my family from Pittsburgh couldn't have been more different from the Southern Californian Louds, there was a connection because both families had the same age profile (it wasn't yet known that me being gay was another connection).




Lance was the first of the Louds to die.  Lance, who burned the proverbial candle at both ends, died from complications that arose from hepatitis C and AIDS in 2001 at the age of 50.  (His dad, Bill, died in 2018, and his mom, Pat, passed away in 2021).  Finally, in 2011 year HBO aired the TV movie Cinema Verite which told the story about the Louds and their pioneering TV series.  

"Tales of the City" Airs on PBS (January 1994)




Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City aired over three nights on PBS, with the first episode airing on Monday, January 10, 1994.  I was captivated by the series after receiving the boxed set of volumes as a Christmas gift five years earlier.  (I'm not a fan of fiction but I breezed through these volumes, perhaps because I could identify with the storyline - and its chapters were only 3-5 pages in length.)  Tales takes place in San Francisco during the swinging 1970s and is seen largely through the eyes of Mary Ann Singleton, a recent twenty-something transplant from Cleveland.  And although gay neighbor Michael Tolliver was a key character, Tales was more than just about San Francisco's gay life.  


Among its cast were Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney and Parker Posey (the latter two in the early stages of their careers).  The mini-series' frank portrayals of gay life, drug use and some nudity made it controversial and PBS provided squeamish stations an edited version.  There would be two subsequent installments (More Tales of the City in 1998 and Further Tales of the City in 2001), but neither aired on PBS (despite record ratings of the initial series).  This was in response to threats made by conservative politicians to sharply reduce PBS's federal funding.  Instead, More Tales and Further Tales aired on Showtime




Then in 2019, Netflix produced a 10-episode sequel that brought the story to the present day (with San Francisco's sky-high real estate prices, PrEP, and transgender issues part of the 21st century storyline).  Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis reprised their roles.


Netflix_tales of the city