Gays are always fashionably late, and I am no exception, as I pay tribute to that cult classic The Gay Deceivers long after Gay Pride month as come and gone. Released in 1969, this daring-for-its time comedy starred boyish Kevin Coughlin as Danny a preppy 22 year-old with a steady girlfriend (Brooke Bundy) and handsome Larry Casey as Elliot a ladies man and lifeguard who get drafted. To avoid being sent to Vietnam, the friends pretend to be lovers who desperately want to serve their country. Their ruse works and they are denied entry but knowing the army officer (Jack Starrett) at the draft board will be watching, the duo shack up in a one bedroom apartment in a swinging gay complex and try to convince their landlord Malcolm (Michael Greer), his partner (Sebastian Brook), and the resident stud (Christopher Riordan) that they are homosexuals while keeping Danny's family and Elliot's paramours in the dark. But things get thorny especially when Elliot, at the landlord's costume party, takes a woman to bed not realizing it's a guy in drag. A frustrated drunken Elliot then starts a fight in a gay bar, which is witnessed by Danny and his unsuspecting girlfriend leading to further complications and a surprise ending.
Viewing the film nowadays, The Gay Deceivers (produced by Joe Solomon and directed by Bruce Kessler) is a bit dated with stereotypical gay characters and plays like an elongated episode of Love, American Style. But in its time this was very daring and trail blazing. Director Bruce Kessler takes a sincere approach and knows his audience even giving them glimpses of blonde Larry Casey's fine naked behind. With the hubbub today about gay marriage, it is quite surprising that for a movie made in the late Sixties Greer and Brook"s relationship is treated respectfully and not poked fun at. They come off as the typical wacky married next-door-neighbors found on any TV sitcom at the time. Even the gay bar scene is toned down and not played over-the-top. The actors all do a surprisingly good job but Greer's flamboyant queen act becomes tiresome after about five minutes.
Actor Christopher Riordan who plays Duane was a busy dancing actor throughout the Sixties. A single father, he took job after job to earn a living to support his son. Extremely handsome with an All-American look and persona, Riordan appeared in practically every beach and Elvis movie from 1964 through 1967 while juggling bit roles in big budget studio productions and TV shows. The widely varied films he worked on during this period include Viva Las Vegas, My Fair Lady, Get Yourself a College Girl, A Swingin' Summer, The Girls on the Beach, Von Ryan's Express, Ski Party, The Loved One, Tickle Me, The Glory Guys, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Village of the Giants, Made in Paris, The Glass Bottom Boat, Hot Rods to Hell, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Clambake, and Camelot. His dancing prowess got him noticed especially when Fred Astaire hand picked him to dance with Barrie Chase on TV's The Hollywood Palace. This led Christopher to being also being hired as assistant choreographer on a number of movies. However, as was the way back then, he rarely received screen credit though he finally got on-screen recognition for Fireball 500.
By the late Sixties, Riordan had outlasted a number of the dancing beach boys and directors began casting him in bigger roles due to his talent and professionalism. The Gay Deceivers in 1969 was the first followed by Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and The Curious Female. Christopher is still working today. Most recently, he made guest appearances on the TV comedies House of Carters and Ugly Betty and performs his cabaret act at AIDS benefits in the Los Angeles area.
How did you get cast in The Gay Deceivers?
Bruce Kessler originally had me in mind for Larry Casey's part. In those days, I was very buff. I shocked everyone when I opted for the part of Duane.
Why did you choose the smaller supporting role over the lead?
Even after my agent described the part of the lifeguard, I thought it was boring; and that was before even being able to read any of the 'sides'. I had spent so many years in a bathing suit, in all those AIP beach party movies that I just didn't see any fulfillment in playing that part. I also knew that there were many actors in consideration for it. That is, until it became known what the movie was about. Indeed, a lot of actors shied away from this script.Also, I had always considered myself to be a 'character actor.' I didn't enjoy playing the 'handsome leading man.' For one thing, I never considered myself that handsome. Now, when I look at old pictures, or films, I say to myself, "Oh, that kid was pretty good looking.' Now, I understand why they were always trying to put me into that 'boring' category.
What was Bruce Kessler's reaction?
He was shocked and I don't think he was going for it. So I went home, did some shopping, and returned to his office the next day or so. Bruce took one look at me, and seemed astonished at the transformation. He then said, "If you really want it, then that part [of Duane] is yours.' My thinking was, and I was right; that this role would be a stand out-Duane and Malcolm would be the parts that one remembers.
Do you think the producer and director treated the material respectfully?
Joe Solomon was a real character-typical producer. I'm sure he was exploiting the whole idea. Bruce Kessler, on the other hand, took all of this very seriously and really wanted to do a good film. He ended up as one of my favorite directors.
Why did Bruce Kessler impress you so?
Because it was how well Bruce, the crew, etc. were treating me. They seemed to respect the years of experience that I brought to the table. I recall Bruce applauding when I made my entrance. It was my first shot. I told him, "I have an idea....' He said, "Good, do it. Don't tell me, I'll go along.' Obviously, I brought a lot more to the part than what was written on the page. But I also wanted to be very careful [with my performance], as I knew, one day, my son would see this movie. Bruce was so thrilled at my delivery that he called my agent and told her, "I'm giving Christopher single card billing along with the leads.' She was excited at that, and frankly, so was I.
Did Kevin Coughlin or Larry Casey show any reservations about taking the lead roles?
Kevin was a really lovely guy. He too, took it all very seriously, and wanted to do a good film. I'll never understand why Larry took the part. He was truly spooked the entire time.
I'm sure Larry Casey is/was a very nice man. I know he was a husband and a father, and that he had been a regular on The Rat Patrol. In his defense, as I mentioned, I thought his part was very dull and I don't think he had the charisma, or the understanding, to pull it off. Throughout the entire shoot he seemed to be drowning. I felt that nothing he did actually connected. I know that Kevin was always trying to work on their scenes together, but Casey never picked up the subtle hints. I hate to say it, but I don't think I ever worked with an actor that I got less from, than Larry Casey. A life-size photo might have been more affective. It was painful, during the party scene. So much more could have been done with that.
What do you recall about Michael Greer who played the one of the landlords?
This was the second of three films I did with Michael who was openly gay. He loved what I was doing with my role, and stole my adlib of "Miss Thing" for his act-and, ever after, I think. We were encouraged to add things if we thought they might work. However, Michael tended to 'take over' the directing of some scenes especially the party scene moving people around and giving them bits of business. In regards to Casey, I recall him rolling his eyes and muttering, "Where did they find this guy?' He even said to me, "You poor thing-you have to act like you're attracted to him.' Michael was very direct.
I don't think he and Bruce Kessler ended up on the best of terms. Michael was definitely trying to make his mark and he did offend some people. Not me though, until about five years later, during one of his live performances. He introduced every one of his actor friends in the audience except me. I kept thinking, "Oh, he's saving me for last.' He wasn't. I just shrugged his slight off.
Do you recall the reaction of the fans when the movie was released? It was a box office hit.
Indeed, I was at the premiere. Somewhere, I have a shot of the huge line, going all around the block, lining up to see this film. My entrance got a huge hand, with much shouting and foot stomping. I think it let the audience know it was all OK to laugh at all of this. I was then only offered the same kind of roles for ages. In fact, Dominick Dunne and I had a bit of a fight over my turning down a part of a hustler in his movie, Play It as It Lays.
They brought the movie back every summer for a few years. Then, it seemed to disappear. It was ages before it became available on video. By the way, I was also told that the rental prints (16mm) often came back with my entrance, and my billing, missing-sort of 'early days of Rewind', no? It got so that they had to run the film when it was returned. If those scenes were excised, the customer was told to either return the missing footage, or pay.
NOTE: This was originally published on July 30, 2008 at: https://www.cinemaretro.com/index.php?/archives/2228-TOM-LISANTI-INTERVIEWS-CHRISTOPHER-RIORDAN-ON-THE-GAY-DECEIVERS.html