Male Lover

Hitt- Male Lover 2

So — something different from Hitt, a novel about a gay man?  He’d written several books about lesbians, and there are lesbians in this one, so why not?

I didn’t know what to expect in Male Lover from such a macho writer whose characters are often womanziers and louses.  This strange little obscure novel, put out by the short-lived Gaslight Books (existing only one year in 1964, putting out a handful of titles) was both disappointing and interesting.

It’s about a guy named Edwin “Red” Charlton, football hero.  He has a degree in Engineering but since he’s a big guy — Hitt’s usual six foot two — and good in sports, he played football in college and was recruited to the pro major league.  After ten years as a well-known football player, nearing 30 and his body falling apart, he accepts a ten-year contract from Fowler Sporting Goods to endorse their products and help build the business.  He soon finds out he hates working in an office and wishes he was back on the playing field instead of getting embroiled in office politics. The daughter of the owner wants Red to marry her so they can take over…she also has plans to murder the owner, her father.  She doesn’t know Red is gay until later.

Was it his mother’s doing?  Red’s mom dressed him up in girl’s clothes and let his hair grow long, putting ribbons and braids in.  His mother wanted a daughter, not a son, an blames it on her husband, as if he had control of it — reminded me of Ernest Hemingway; his mother wanted two girls, not a boy and a girl, so the macho Hemingway, from age 1-5, was called “Ernestina” by his mom and dressed as a girl.

In college, Red had a gay affair with his roommate and his roommate, in shame for what he had become, hung himself. This is Red’s dark secret — only he knows why his roommate really committed suicide.

Now Red lives with Lennie, a petite fashion photographer.  While there is no actual gay sex in this book, it’s all in the background, it’s about gay relationships.  You also wonder about thes two — Red is a huge muscular man in bed with a skinny little queer.  Yikes!  This is how graphic Hitt gets:

Later, in the bedroom, he was good to Lennie,better than he had ever been before. Then,  afterword, his body surged into life as Lennie returned the favor.

Leave it all up to the imagination.

This is a very flawed book and not up to par with Hitt’s plotting. Again, perhaps the lack of a professional editor from Beacon or Midwood is at fault here, as with the Kozy title, Diploma Dolls.  There is lengthy, pointless banter, dialogue that should have been cut in half.  There’s little action until all the blackmail and murder come into play later on.  And there are too many flashbacks, interrupting the flow of the present.

The only Hitt setting we all know and love is when Red was growing up: an alcoholic, demanding, crazy mother married to a construction worker who died on the job, doing overtime, tio satisfy the money-needs of his wife.  Red grows up watching his mom drink her life away, going from one man to another, waiting for the insurance company to finally pay out.  She hires a math tutor for Red, 19-year-old Betty Ort, who tries to get Redinto bed and realizes the big boy is “strange…a twilight walker.”  Red runs away from home and pays his way into college doing manual work.

When he gets the job at the sporting goods company, somehow Betty returns, making sure she is hired as Red’s secretary. This makes no sense, but she seems to think she can still change him into a heterosxual male.

There is also Sylvia, a transexual model who tries to force Red’s lover, Lennie, into marrying her as each other’s beards. The son of the man who owns the fashion company they work for has taken over and is anti-gay: he insists that all models (unless married) sleep with him to prove they’re not lesians, and any male employee found to be gay will be fired too.  Slyvia theatens to out Red and Lennie if  Lennie doesn’t marry her, this way she can avoid sleeing with the boss who will find out she’s really a boy.

To escape this blackmail, Red and Lennie get secretly married.  Here Hitt was being progressive and seeing future issues: same-sex marriage. They go to another state (Hitt does not say which) where a gay-friendly justice of the peace marries them. While the marriage is not “legal,” per se, it is symbolic, and Lennie has an excuse to not marry Sylvia: he’s already married and Sylvia, being one of the group, should respect that.

The fashion company boss tries to rape Sylvia and she kills him with a letter opener.  In front of Red and Lennie, blaming Lennie for this happening, she takes a cyanide pill.

Wait — how the hell did she get her hands on CYANIDE?  That’s never explained.

A lot of things aren’t explained.  Hitt was not paying attention in this book or something.  There is too much going on, too many sub-plots, too much blackmail left and right: the Fowler daughter threatens to “out” the big football hero if he doesn’t murder her father.  Oh he tries but it backfires…

A very odd little book, worth only reading for the curious Hitt fan, but not recommended beyond collectors wishing to grab a hard-to-find book.

Cool cover art too…

Hitt - Male Lover

3 Responses to “Male Lover”

  1. […] Male Lover by Orrie Hitt (Gaslight Books, 1964) Reviewed here. […]

  2. The problem I had with this book was that it’s point of view towards male homosexuals was too sensitive and sympathetic. I want sensitive and sympathetic in real life, but in fiction it’s boring. One of the reasons I like Orrie is because his prose style and his treatment of his subject matter often lives up to the sensationalism promised by the cover blurbs. If I’m going to buy a 1950’s pulp-type novel, I want it to be sensationalistic and in-your-face. I don’t want it to be “understanding” and “progressive”. To put it another way, beneath all the buttoned-up appearances, the ’50s were a time of hysteria. Most of Orrie’s novels capture that hysteria. “Male Lover” didn’t. Not for me, at least.

  3. orriehittfan Says:

    Well, Red does fuck up the murder and gets speared, and his lover commits suicide with him when they both jump into the ocean…not the “they lived a happy gay life” in the end. In order to not be prosecuted for obscenity, many publishers required gay characters to either turn straight at the end or meet a horrible, tragic end for their sinful ways, thus these became morality tales, arguable in court.

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