The Love of Gladiators

My older brother’s school was a trolley ride away from our suburban house. Boston College High School excelled at sports and academics. I wanted to join my brother in the following class of 1970, except I won a full scholarship to Xaverian Brothers located only ten miles away from our exit on Route 128. The distance seemed small to my parents, but I ran track and once the school bus for my hometown left the parking lot, my only option to get to 109 Harborview Road was to hitchhike from the East Street on ramp of 128.

My hair wasn’t long. I was good-looking in my school uniform and blazer. Balding men stopped for me. They smelled of Aqua Velva. After a few minutes on 128 the drivers never failed to ask, “Do you like gladiator movies?”

“No,” I said, fearing an escalating series of homo-erotic suggestions and the drivers dropped me at the dreaded I-93 cloverleaf.

Several long walks to the 138 exit taught me that saying ‘yes’ was better than ‘no’. I never told my parents about these or that Brother Jerome the school’s librarian asked the same question during Reading 101.

After graduation I didn’t hear that line until I saw the movie AIRPLANE in 1980, when Peter Graves of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE fame asked a young boy, “What do you think about gladiator movies?”

Every man in the audience laughed in solidarity. None of the women broke a smile. This was our little secret and males my age recognized the influence of gladiator movies on our pubescent libidos.

I don’t care what anyone thinks.

Steve Reeves the Hercules of the 60s wasn’t gay.

Tony Curtis on the other hand was very gay in SPARTACUS.

A slave to a Roman master played by Larry Olivier.

Very out and when GLADIATOR was screened in 1980, I saw the first show. My friends and I went to dinner and told the maitre de about the movie.

“It doesn’t sound like a real gladiator movie.” Marvin sniffed with disdain. He was 6-1 and weighed 145. Mussels were a dish served on a plate not on his bones. “They’re never a real gladiator movie unless two men wrestle naked.”


That comment certainly shone new light on the wrestling scene between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in the film adaptation of WOMEN IN LOVE. They were gladiators too, if only for that scene.

Naked men and gladiators might say something to some men, but Steve Reeves was not gay.

No way, but that didn’t stop him from being an idol.

To many.

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