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50 Years Ago Today, ‘The Corner Bar’ Made History With TV’s First Out Gay Character (Guest Blog)

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of course he is mannerisms. In dramas, they showed up in crime or legal series, the (offscreen) homosexuality serving as fulcrum for the week’s plot – blackmail, revenge over unrequited-love, mental instability – with a correlation seemingly drawn between gay and aberrant.But then TV began to become more real in the 1970s, in large part due to the arrival of “All in the Family” in 1971.

In fact, against a backdrop of a growing gay-rights movement sparked by 1969’s Stonewall Rebellion, the fifth episode of the groundbreaking sitcom dared to make homosexuality the subject of an entire episode. “Judging Books by Covers,” airing in February 1971, featured a visit to the Bunker house by Mike and Gloria Stivic’s flamboyant neckerchief-wearing friend Roger, whom Archie Bunker dismisses as a “fairy.” (Roger’s sexuality is never made official.) But Archie’s intolerance is put to the test later in the episode at favorite-watering-hole Kelsey’s when he’s faced with the possibility that macho bar-pal Steve is himself gay.

A year later came “The Corner Bar.”Produced by TV-and-nightclub comedian Alan King, the comedy was mediocre summertime viewing at best, featuring a low-wattage cast. (Dell, the show’s best known star, was one of the original Dead End Kids on Broadway and in the subsequent 1940s film series, leading to a successful stage and TV guest-star career.) Panama, seen only occasionally, was the series’ chief calling card, if any, given the novelty of his appearance.

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