The strange story of how 1970s homophobia turned "The Incredible Hulk" from "Bruce Banner" to "David Banner"
I was born in 1971. By the time the Hulk was on tv, I was genuinely happy they called him David because Bruce was a "gay name." I was still in grade school, but the cliche was firmly lodged in my head. I remember a couple years later, reading a Mad Magazine spoof of the Hulk, which has the main dialogue explaining that "Bruce" is too swishy for a TV hero while the radio in the background announces "Bruce has won the decathlon! BRUCE is the greatest athlete on Earth!!"
Hey what can you expect of a group of people who co-opted and destroyed the perfectly good word "gay."
BTW, Bruce Willis and Bruce Lee have been macho actors playing macho roles.
In the 1960's there was the song by Tennessee Ernie Ford entitled "Big Bad John"-- the super macho guy. In response, some DJ came up with "Big Bad Bruce"... the hairdresser... that played on pop radio for a month. I was like in the 8th grade and had to prove a few times to smart-alec peers that this was not me.
Interesting personal history... My mother was to name me David, but a mother who lived next door had a son by that name and was constantly yelling (in an annoying voice) "David!! David!!! David!!!" And so my mother changed my name to Bruce before I was born. A God thing.
Thankfully these uses are now so obsolete they do not even appear in Gay Dictionaries. But others such as George or Georgie which Walter Winchell used frequently (from Lord George Byron, the notoriously bisexual rake), Donnie rather than Donald (all these names were often altered to a familiar, and so slighting use), or usages like Cy for Cynthia, a feminization.
I should add the use of names, particularly Bruce to signify gayness goes far back in Gay lingo, along with names like Mary and Mollie. But it's wider acceptance in popular culture started with publications like 'The Male Figure' by 'Bruce of LA' (pseud. of Bruce Bellas) in the early 1950's featuring photographs and drawings of unclad and homoerotic young men. Although directed to the homosexual male audience it was read (perhaps) innocently by young males interested in physical development. Legal assaults on the publishers for indecency laws were often luridly detailed in the popular media.
Subcultures often create symbols and jargon unintelligible to the wider populace. I was reminded of this when reading the comments on a researcher's enquiry about the origin of a technical symbol which puzzled specialists in the very area of expertise it represents. The Medical Caduceus is the best example of such. I doubt one out a thousand physicians could give an accurate description as to the origins of their universally recognizable symbol.
Given the Monty Python reference, you'd have to wonder why the word "Bruce" wasn't associated with Australians
I grew up in the 70's as well, and was a Marvel comics fan. I specifically remember reading an interview when the TV show came out, and someone said they changed the name because "Bruce" sounded too effeminate. Simultaneously, at that time the name "Bruce" was routinely used in sketch comedy to refer to gays. I remember my parents using the name often whenever they wanted to make a "gay joke." As a Hulk comics fan and a little kid, I just remember being irritated that they changed his name. There was never any question at the time that the TV show changed his name to sound "less gay."
Grew up in the 1970s...had a parent of a childhood friend once opine she was surprised Bruce Springsteen didn't change his name, since it was effeminate/gay for a rock star.
My point in referring to the Google search was to offer an objective perspective, however imperfect, rather than the subjective perspective offered in these comments. And I still don't think that the average 1970s American looked at Bruce Willis, Bruce Springsteen and Bruce Lee and thought "What gay (or effeminate) names these guys have !"
I came of age in 70s USA and, yes, the name Bruce was considered rather effeminate (so were too-wide bellbottoms, the color purple, and a number of other things far too ridiculous to mention, but, of course, not long hair). Maybe because of the way it could be lisped? This might well have played a role in changing the character's name, but, really, we're talking about cartoon characters, and to expect 2020s "enlightenment" in the 1970s is jejune. Regarding the Pythons, as Eric Idle explained here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbchmshpsz0), about 1:50, the Bruces are named Bruce because a lot of Australians he knew were named Bruce. Just a simple joke carried to comic excess. Their poufter talk is standard macho-man bluff also carried to comic excess. Britain wasn't America, it certainly didn't have the same perceptions about this or that name that we did here.
And 1970s homophobia wasn't monolithic. I could tell a funny story from my sex-ed (boys-only) class which shows that even 15-year-olds were more than capable of turning it on its head. We really need to try to see beyond our own times and cultures and not try to understand others through our own necessarily very limited perspective. Trying to understand others as they understand themselves is one of the most liberating things we can do.
There is really a distorted perspective to this piece. Google "Bruce" and the first three names that come up are Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Willis and Bruce Lee, all household names in the 70s and today. That seems like a much more realistic assessment of the public perception of the name. The Monty Python reference contradicts your thesis unless you think it's a sort of double irony. And you don't consider the way the word is thought of in other English-speaking cultures such as the UK or Australia, where there is simply no "gay" connotation to the name.
I can confirm that in the 1970s the name “Bruce” did indeed have “gay” overtones in popular culture, often with lilting vocalizations. I cannot state specific references, but multiple sources used the name “Bruce” as a gay male reference. A product of the times I’m not going to judge it, but rest assured it was widely understood to refer to a gay male.
It predates your examples.
Milton Berle when in his drag persona on early radio or tv would lisp the phrase "Uncle Brucie", which is still a gay slang term for "one of the tribe", like saying "a friend of Dorothy" for gay fans of Judy Garland's character in the Wizard of Oz. He took his act and limp-wristed patter from his Burlesque and Vaudeville mentor, Karyl Norman, one of the stars of the "Panzy Craze" in performers. Norman lived and died in my (now) home town, both long before my time.
"Julian and Sandy", the early British comedic duo characters, also used it in the '6o's They snuck in a lot of Polari (Gay Slang) into their act, popularizing a lot of references. But I don't know of any jargon in that language that could have sounded like Bruce. I think it being lisped by Berle could have struck Carson as a funny use of the name, as he was a longtime fan and friend of Berle.
Ernie Kovaks did a similar number on the name Percy, in his swishy character "Percy Dovetonsils".
I at least remember hearing both in the very early fifties, along with Lance (no mystery where that may have come from).