Exactly 45 years ago today, on November 1, 1972, "That Certain Summer" aired on ABC, becoming the first television movie to depict a gay dad character. The movie boasted a star-studded cast including Hal Holbrook, as the divorced gay father to a teenage son, and his partner, played by Martin Sheen. The film was a surprise success, so much so that it won Scott Jacoby, who played Holbrook's son in the movie, an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the role.
For the time, the movie offered a remarkably sympathetic portrayal of gay father struggling with his sexuality. In one particularly memorable scene, Sheen describes his relationship in the following terms to Holbrook's teenage son, who is struggling to understand their relationship:
"They say it's a sickness. They say it's something that has to be cured. I don't know. I do know it isn't easy. If I had a choice, it's not something I'd pick for myself. But it's the only way I can live. Gary and I have a kind of marriage. We love each other."
In a 2007 interview, Sheen reflected back on the film, which was one of his first, and one he was repeatedly instructed not to take due to its portrayal of homosexuality:
"It was a huge hit, and it was very subtle. I thought it was wonderful. There was a great deal of freedom in it because it wasn't about advocating a lifestyle or a sexuality. It was about two people who adored each other, and they weren't allowed to have a relationship that involved their sexuality. We put a name on it and said that it was about being human, it was about being honest, and that's the bottom line."
Asked whether or not he was concerned at the time that playing a gay character might hurt his career, Sheen responded:
"Well, I had played killers before that. I'd massacred people by the scores. I'd robbed banks and kidnapped children and raped women and murdered people, you know, in any number of shows. Now I was going to play a gay guy and that was like considered a career ender. Oh, for Christ's sake! What kind of culture do we live in?"