In 1976 Eve Plumb shed her Jan Brady past by playing a sex worker in Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway. The TV-movie was a success so NBC filmed a sequel about her gay-for-pay boyfriend. Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn tosses the protagonist from place to place like a modern Candide. Alexander moves to L.A. for art school but is soon turning tricks. Where Dawn was menaced by an evil pimp, Alexander is his own worst enemy. He’ll turn down opportunities without pursuing goals of his own. This lack of agency makes for a boring protagonist.
More interesting are a pair of gay men who try to help him: a closeted football player and a compassionate psychologist. The trouble is that Alex isn’t gay. A fact that he’ll remind the audience of constantly. If NBC had been willing to explore sexual ambiguity, they could have taken the character in more interesting directions. Instead the film is a snooze.
Learn more with my spoiler filled recap.
Act One: New Kid
Scene One: A Hospital in Los Angeles
DOCTOR: What happened?
DAWN (a sex worker. Age
19 15.): My pimp stabbed him.
DOCTOR: Does he have any family we can call?
ALEXANDER (another sex worker. Age
22 15.): No. My father kicked me out for being… an artist. I’m not gay!
Scene Two: Flash back to a Bus Depot
HUSTLER: Hello stranger. Need a place to stay?
ALEXANDER: Thanks. Wait… you have sex for money?
HUSTLER: It’s the only job a minor can get.
LANDLADY (Jean Hagen!): Everyone’s gotta pay the rent. I played Lena Lemont in Singin’ in the Rain. Look at me now.
Scene Three: Bus Depot. Present Day
ALEXANDER: You had your adventures in the last film. Here’s a bus ticket back to Arizona.
DAWN: When you raise enough money, come find me.
Act Two: The Life
Scene Four: Police Station
COP: We caught this boy soliciting men for sex.
PSYCHOLOGIST: I signed your release form. Will you come with me to a gay youth hostel?
GAY TEENS: Our fathers kicked us out for being… artists.
ALEXANDER: I’m not gay! (Flees).
Scene Five: Restaurant
HUSTLER: Join me on a double date. I’ll lend you a suit.
RICH WOMAN: Hello handsome. Take me home and I’ll pay you well.
ALEXANDER: Money? But I thought this was a date! I disapprove of sex work!
RICH WOMAN: Your loss.
Scene Six: Art Museum
ALEX: I came to L.A. to go to art school.
FOOTBALL PLAYER: I’ll bet you’re talented. Howsa ‘bout working for me?
ALEXANDER: You mean, like a houseboy? I guess I’ll try it. But I’m not gay!
PSYCHOLOGIST: Careful Alex. Straight boys don’t keep his interest for long. The film is coy about whether you actually sleep with him.
ALEXANDER: That’s just for the censors. If I didn’t sleep with him the film would have told us outright.
Act Three: Getting Out
Scene Seven: Arrest
FOOTBALL PLAYER: Go pick up some cocaine for my party.
COPS: Alex, you’re under arrest for buying cocaine. We’re sending you to juvenile detention.
PSYCHOLOGIST: Your honor, he could come back to my gay youth hostel.
ALEXANDER: I’M NOT GAY! I just want to go to Arizona and marry my girlfriend.
JUDGE: Then go. And don’t come back. Case dismissed.
Scene Eight: Bus Depot
ALEXANDER: Dawn? I thought you found a job in Arizona!
DAWN: Someone told my boss I used to be a sex worker. Let’s go someplace new. Together.
ALEXANDER: Stay in school kids. Or you’ll end up like us. The more you know!
Does the lady protest too much? Is Alex bisexual? If so, why is he so miserable? He’s not turning tricks for cruel johns. He’s the houseboy for a successful athlete who gives him his own room, buys him painting supplies and doesn’t pressure him for sex. If he was of age it would be your basic kept boy relationship. But he’s not.
It’s important to remember that Alex is 15. And the age of consent in CA is 18. The 22-year-old, 6’2” Leigh McCloskey is unconvincing as a 15-year-old. There’s a line about how the streets age you, but it’s not enough. Still his age is important to the plot. He can’t get work in a restaurant or gas station at 15.
The heroine of Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway was fleeing an alcoholic mother. Her mother starts AA meetings and asks her to come home. Dawn refuses. Alexander’s in a different situation. He asks his family to take him back but they refuse. The social workers want to help but the teens refuse. This does them few favors. A bad situation all around.
There’s a sense that the co-writers of Alexander want to offer support to LGBQ youth but are forced to sneak it into the margins. Scenes with the gay psychologist and the teens at the youth hostel suggest a more interesting film than the one they were allowed to make. It’s unclear who the target audience is for this film in its current form. Is it a cautionary tale for parents or for teens? What do you think?
Midnight Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho set the high water mark for films about male sex workers. Alexander can’t compete but it’s better than maudlin junk like Going Down in LA-LA Land, King Cobra and The Fluffer. Any other recommendations?
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