Male Beauty: Postwar Masculinity in Theater, Film, and Physique Magazines
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Photographs of his nearly naked body circulated in magazines and postcards all over Europe and North America. A tension developed between weight. America contests, associating these with feminine narcissism. The proliferation of bodybuilding contests, both local and national, depended on a large gay fan base. California, Mr. America, and the myriad other bodybuilding competitions. They sat through the lengthy traditional weightlifting competitions in anticipation of the bodybuilding segments usually held at the end of the evening.
At one Mr. East Coast contest, the chairman of the planning committee, the chairman of the judging committee, the musical entertainer, and many of the photographers were all gay men. By the early s several of these photographers had launched their own magazines.
What set these magazines apart from their mainstream competitors was hard to define, but customers like David Chapman, Paul Monette, and Michael Denneny responded in droves. Physique magazines invited and often depicted men gazing at other men, at a time when a mere glance between men was dangerous. The editors of mainstream bodybuilding magazines felt these new competitors cut into their bottom line and sounded the alarm. It proposed a ban on all advertisements of nude physique photography, even while.
Physique cover boy Richard Alan joined the chorus, denouncing the fan base that had sent him thousands of letters while purchasing his images, bathing suits, and supplements. They were all of the element that is giving weight training its biggest black eye—homosexuals.
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For each other! Soon more mainstream news sources understood what these magazines represented and let their readers in on the secret. Some observed that barbells had replaced chintz and lavender curtains as accessories in gay homes and plush gyms were the new homosexual hangout.
Family physicians were known to warn teenage boys away from lifting weights because of the likelihood of encountering homosexuals. They primp the way a woman primps, and for the same reason. To modern eyes, they seemed to hide behind the worlds of fitness and bodybuilding, engaging in a sort of masquerade or alibi. Mainstream muscle magazines never tired of articulating how homosexuals were infiltrating and corrupting a wholesome sport.
What we now see as a culture of the closet hiding behind the he-man sport of weightlifting was at the time perceived as an expansive subculture threatening the sport. Interest in physical culture was not a ruse behind which gay men hid but a way for them to express their desires and find each other.
But to say that physique magazines represented the closeted nature of homosexuality in the postwar years is only one of the misunderstandings surrounding the genre. They are also generally viewed as static. Most studies are based on only the best-known magazine, Physique Pictorial, with a smattering of examples from one or two others. With all the attention on just a few photographers and artists like Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland, the complexity of the market has been obscured.
The company that became the largest. Part of the reason for this static portrayal has been the lack of sources, since research libraries did not collect these periodicals. This situation began to change in the s as both community-based gay and lesbian archives and academic archives specializing in the new field of sexuality studies began to preserve them. The research terrain was further transformed as these magazines again became consumer items sold on eBay and discussed in online blogs.
And in just the past few years, as commercial online databases have become available, a systematic review of nearly the entire corpus of physique magazines— numbering hundreds of issues and thousands of pages—has become possible for the first time. The typical physique magazine consumer also subscribed to one of the many mail- order gay book services, bought swimwear through the Ah Men catalog, sent gay greeting cards to his friends, and displayed an Athletic Model Guild calendar on his wall.
Even if he did not do any of these things, he was influenced by advertising that suggested he could. Subscribing to a physique magazine would allow him to purchase gay novels from the Winston Book Club, decorate the living room with a Quaintance statue or painting, whip up a meal with The Gay Cookbook, or play suggestive records or physique films at parties.
Their increasingly close, if always contentious, relationship to the homophile political movement of the time is largely ignored, along with their key role in winning some of the first gay rights legal victories. The end of censorship in the late s is often seen as a gift from the Supreme Court bestowed on these magazines, or the result of a general tide of s liberalism.
Physique entrepreneurs faced a zealous antismut campaign waged by the U. Post Office, part of a cultural crusade to attack an increasingly open and organized gay movement, of which physique magazines were an integral part. Many lost their struggle with the Post Office and were forced out of business, their stories largely forgotten and undocumented. Only when these gay entrepreneurs organized into large conglomerates with nationwide distribution systems were they able to acquire the resources that enabled them to fight back and win in the courts.
They were perceived as gay magazines by nearly everyone involved in their production or reception and they grew more openly gay over time. What emerges from my study is a picture of these magazines as part of a larger network of consumer cultural production that was integral to the development of a homophile movement and to legal struggles that culminated in the federal court rulings in and that allowed open homoeroticism and frontal male nudity.
I see these legal victories as the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, as important as the better-known Stonewall Riots of This nostalgic vision has given us a narrow, distorted view, allowing us to imagine that they held up an impossibly idealized model of the gay male body. But to contemporary viewers, what set gay physique magazines apart from their mainstream competitors was their inclusion of a variety of body types. Indeed, the proliferation of gay physique magazines ushered in a broader aesthetic than that exemplified by traditional weightlifting magazines. It was partly by offering more diverse body types and poses that they distinguished themselves as gay.
By gleefully soliciting the desires of other men, they were not aping heterosexual masculine norms but subverting them. Magazines were happy to publish the words, images, or artwork of customers, through either letters to the editor, a club directory, or a more formalized contest. Lionel Kilfoyle was no bodybuilder and not conventionally handsome, but he managed over a three-year period to get his photograph published in. I get very lonely, so introduce me warmly once again to your readers. While this sense of community and identification may have been easier for those whose appearance conformed to the standards of the conventional physique model, it was by no means limited to them.
A Physique Pictorial reader from Philadelphia confessed that he was sickly and therefore would never have a defined physique. I sense a generous warmth and good feeling.
The Grecian Guild, founded by two men from the rural South, was perhaps the most racially exclusive. Mizer expressed opposition to capital punishment because he saw how it fell disproportionately on the poor and racial minorities, highlighting the case of Jess Neal, a black youth in Utah shot by a firing squad for a murder conviction that was the result of perjured police.
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Given the state of segregation throughout the United States in this period—both de jure and de facto—and the absence of such images in mainstream media sources, this is not a surprise. So what is more remarkable than their purported exclusion is their inclusion, despite the financial disadvantage. I took them to please myself, for the sheer beauty of the male body. As a mail-order based medium, physique magazines represented a more integrated setting than many gay bars at the time.
Unlike much of America in the s and s, the U. Some men of color wrote in to complain of the lack of models of color, but this also suggests that they were already regular customers. Perhaps the most racially inclusive physique studio was Kris of Chicago, comanaged by Domingo Orejudos, a Chicagoan of mixed Italian and Philippine heritage.
We know that readers wrote thousands of letters to their favorite magazines, physique artists, photographers, and models. Thor Studios sold drawings of muscular lifeguards, workmen, and motorcyclists—usually in pairs or groups, engaged in highly suggestive play. Though exhibiting less talent, they included the sort of highly charged homoerotic settings made famous by the better-known work of Quaintance, Etienne, and Tom of Finland. These Thor customer letters reveal that while some customers seemed to play the game and claim to be professional artists needing nude figure studies, most let Thor know of their homo sexual interests.
Washington, D. They all wanted a more intimate connection to someone who shared their desires. As John Pazdernik from St. When I wrote the little letter with my order I was taking a stab in the dark as to your feelings, desires, etc.
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When I was looking at your catalog, I kind of had a hunch that from the way you sketched the imprint of the most beautiful part of the male body, I thought that you had a certain desire and liking for that part of the body for it was sketched too perfect. Everyone in this community would consider my interest as utterly crazy. It promoted a collective identity among people who may not have considered themselves gay even if, or because, that collective identity did not carry a label.
For some customers, physique magazines provided a gateway into gay culture, particularly as censorship victories were achieved and they began including more information about that culture, such as book reviews and travel tips. And the lives of the models depicted in the magazines often mirrored that.
A year later he was named Grecian of the Month. Even if partly fictional, this and many similar profiles suggested to thousands of readers a fantasy entry narrative into an urban gay world. In postwar America, physique magazines used the U. Describe the connection issue. SearchWorks Catalog Stanford Libraries. Male beauty : postwar masculinity in theater, film, and physique magazines. Responsibility Kenneth Krauss. Online Available online.
Green Library. M K83 Unknown. More options. Find it at other libraries via WorldCat Limited preview.