December 10, 1941– Tommy Kirk
Thomas Lee Kirk is a principal character in one of my earliest memories & I could have done much worse. I was beside myself with grief after watching the Disney flick Old Yeller when I was 4 years old. Truly inconsolable, my mother had to make me hot chocolate & give me reassurance in the form of cookies. I have never recovered. I have used the memory of this film as my method of crying on cue when I used to be an actor.
I had my first crush, before I could have ever mentally formulated the concept of being a homo. I didn’t understand why I felt so dizzy & tingly, while watching The Hardy Boys serial on my favorite show, The Mickey Mouse Club. The show ran daily at 5pm & I was there, my attention focused on our B&W television in the den. Monday was Fun With Music Day; Tuesday was the exciting Guest Star Day; Wednesday- Anything Can Happen Day; Thursday- Circus Day; Friday we got-Talent Round-Up Day, including a The Hardy Boys installment.
Tim Constantine & Kirk were The Hardy Boys & I couldn’t stop feeling all dreamy about them. Oh, I wanted to be a Hardy Boy. I knew I could help solve mysteries along with those 2 boys. A few years later, I almost couldn’t make it through Swiss Family Robinson (1960) at The Fox Theatre in Downtown Spokane on a Saturday afternoon, with all the shirtless males & Kirk as close to naked as I could have ever imagined… & imagine I did.
Kirk was one of Walt Disney Studios’s leading male stars of the late 1950s & early 1960s: Babes In Toyland (1961), The Shaggy Dog (1959), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Son Of Flubber (1963). His regular Sunday night presence on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World Of Color (1954–1992) rocked my young world.
Kirk was an All-American Boy. I related to him & emulated him. His clean good-looks, honest face, comic timing, & wholesome roles were what I aspired to be as an actor. Little could I have known that my Tommy Kirk was a homosexual.
Young Kirk knew that his being gay would create problems with his career as well as his strict Baptist parents. Kirk:
“I consider my teenage years as being desperately unhappy. I knew I was gay, but I had no outlet for my feelings. It was very hard to meet people &, at that time, there was no place to go to socialize. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that I began to hear of places where gays congregated.”
When he was 23 years old, Kirk became involved with a 16 year old boy he had picked up at a public swimming pool. The boy’s mother went to Walt Disney to complain. Disney decided that Kirk was becoming a liability for the studio & personally fired him. His contract was dropped, but the studio did allow him to come back to film The Monkey’s Uncle (1965), which coincidentally was the great Annette Funicello’s final Disney film.
“My early sexual experiences were desperate & miserable. Mostly brief encounters… very back-alley kind of things. When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to change. I didn’t know what the consequences would be, but I had the definite feeling that is was going to wreck my Disney career & maybe my whole acting career. Eventually, I became involved with somebody & I was fired. Disney was a family film studio & I was supposed to be their young, leading man. After they found out I was involved with someone… that was the end of Disney.”
In 1964, Kirk was just 23 years old & he had been a star for more than a decade. Suddenly he was “box office poison.” He found some work, but his films during this time were campy fare like Pajama Party (1964) with his pal Funicello & Elsa Lanchester, Mars Needs Women (1967) where he played a sexy shirtless Martian, & Psycho à Go-Go (1967)
“After I was fired from Disney, I did some of the worst movies ever made & I got involved with a manager who said it didn’t matter what you did as long as you kept working.”
Kirk’s personal life also hit the skids:
“I wound up completely broke. I had no self-discipline & I almost died of a drug overdose a couple of times. It’s a miracle that I lived through it all.”
Kirk eventually left show business:
“Finally, I said, to hell with the whole thing, to hell with show business. I’m gonna make a new life for myself, & I got off drugs, completely kicked all that stuff.”
For the past 2 decades, Kirk has owned his own carpet & upholstery cleaning business headquartered in the San Fernando Valley. He has stated that he wishes to be remembered for the Disney work, especially Swiss Family Robinson, his personal favorite.
Kirk helped fuel my earliest fantasies about other guys. I will always appreciate that about him.