Welcome to the first edition of my new column, “From the LWTV Archives”. As an archivist during the day and a queer TV enthusiast the rest of the time, delving into the pages of LWTV is always a favorite pastime of mine. This column will feature moments from queer TV history and view each moment within the context of its time.
For the first edition of this column, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight the first queer female character that LWTV has listed as appearing on a TV show: a guest character named Miss Brant on the show, The Asphalt Jungle.
The Asphalt Jungle
The Asphalt Jungle was a TV show that aired on ABC in 1961. It was a police drama that focused on a squad of detectives that targeted organized crime (Law & Order, anyone?). The title was based off a 1950 film with the same name, which was itself based off a novel. However, the TV show did not directly reflect the storylines of either.
This brings us to season 1, episode 5: “The Sniper.” The crime of the week includes a sniper who has been shooting girls on Lovers’ Lane while they are visiting the hideout to hook up with boys. A man immediately takes the blame for the crime, but the show’s main detectives suspect that he is covering for someone else.
Enter: the violent, queer-coded woman. Miss Brant, played by Virginia Christine, owns a local restaurant that caters to teenagers. She is very opinionated about girls who “give themselves” to boys and flirts shamelessly with female employees. Can you take a guess who turns out the be the true sniper?
Queer Community History
It is not a coincidence that this year, 1961, includes the first hint at a queer woman on TV. This is the same year when the first documentary that used the word “homosexual” appeared on TV. It aired on a KQED broadcast in San Francisco and was titled The Rejected. Meanwhile, a film titled, Victim, became the first English-language film to use the word “homosexual” in 1961. Also in 1961, Illinois became the first state to end its anti-sodomy laws, which decriminalized homosexuality in the state. Clearly, the public was showing some interest in seeing representations of the queer community on screen.
However, we were still a far way off from acceptance (or at least the tolerance we see today). Just three days after the documentary The Rejected was broadcast in San Francisco, the local police raided the Tay-Bush Inn and arrested over 100 queer people. The public may have been curious to learn more about our community, but they weren’t necessarily ready to accept it.
Today, Miss Brant’s appearance in Asphalt Jungle can be viewed as part of the evil, repressed lesbian trope that we saw throughout film and television for decades. It is important to note that the character was never actually labelled as a queer woman, but she was coded enough to make sure the public would fear her for very specific reasons. It would be a while before television was willing to feature queer characters who could be seen as a positive representation of the community.
Stay tuned for the next post of this column, “From the LWTV Archives: First Show with an Implied Gender Queer Character”.
[As always, this column is based on data provided in LWTV. If you have more information on a show/character that has not been included in our database, please let us know!]