With “Brüno” #1 at the U.S. box office, it may be time to mention that probably the first use of the word “gay” in a mainstream American film to denote something other than happiness came from an unlikely source. Director Howard Hawks is best known for films celebrating traditional masculine values, populated by tough, lovable guys and emotionally strong, super sexy women. (My DVD review of “El Dorado” starring John Wayne and Robert Mitchum covers a late example.) Epitome of movie guyness that he was, Hawks nevertheless had no problem playing with sexuality/gender roles just a bit in the 1938 screwball romantic comedy classic, “Bringing Up Baby“.

Fifteen years later, making the iconic Marilyn Monroe musical, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Hawks, who had never made a musical, decided to have famed choreographer Jack Cole direct all the musical sequences. As far as I can tell, he was delighted to let Cole really gay it up in this famed scene featuring the ultra-hot brunette Jane Russell, who was an even bigger sex symbol at the time than Monroe and received top billing. It was a reasonably safe move because, in those very pre-gay liberation days, homosexual innuendo flew right by most audience members. Besides, with Russell around, few straight males of the time were going to notice much of anything else.