The Yale Posture Photos: Bill Hinnant

Up until recent years, the fabled Ivy League nude posture photos have been written about but seldom seen. Starting in the mid-1930’s and continuing on until the 1970’s, incoming Ivy League University students were photographed fully nude in order to gauge their posture, detect scoliosis, and address other correctable body issues while simultaneously inflicting emotional scarring on the participants. Talk show host Dick Cavett joked about it in his early stand-up routines:

“Some guys hated it… some seemed to enjoy it. One guy tried to go through twice… one guy fainted… one guy tried to buy his pictures… and one guy tried to get his retouched.”

50 years later, he penned a New York Times Op Ed piece with a much darker view of the experience.

In recent years, the posture photos from Yale have garnered the most press, with tongues wagging at the possibilities of seeing our country’s best and brightest in the buff. The pics were so rare that most articles on the subject did not actually feature any of the images, opting instead to use medical textbook illustrations or military posture photos.

Since 2020, a steady stream of posture photos featuring male freshman Yalies from 1937-1960 have sold on eBay. It was really only a matter of time before some familiar faces began to pop up. I posted about writer Calvin Trillin‘s photo, which went for a little over $100, while the pic of late actor James Franciscus pulled in $1,225.

These pics now regularly sell for close to $1,000 each. Earlier this month, actor Bill Hinnant’s photo went for a whopping $1,600.

Chalk one up to eBay for their ever-changing goalposts of propriety. When James Franciscus’ Yale photo went up for auction in 2021, full nudity was prohibited in auction photos. What we were left with was a modesty strip applied by the seller to prevent us from viewing the full Franciscus. Now eBay requires that auctions selling nude photos actually show the goods – to insure that the subject isn’t too…erm… excited to be there. Dean Martin’s dong was covered with a post-it, but now it’s ok to see Bill’s Hinnant:

Hinnant was still known by his birth name of John F. Hinnant, Jr. when he arrived at Yale in the Fall of 1953. Originally from Chincoteague Island, Virginia, he had spent two summers as an apprentice at Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. He made his professional debut there playing Barbara Cook’s son in Carousel. He also appeared in Life With Mother starring the legendary Billie (Glinda the Good Witch) Burke.

Following his sophomore year, Bill departed Yale when he won the role of Lt. Cover in the original cast of the comedy No Time For Sergeants starring Andy Griffith. After a year and a half on Broadway, Hinnant returned to Yale to complete his degree alongside his younger brother, Skip, who was also an actor.

In 1957, Bill Hinnant co-starred with former Yale classmate James Franciscus in the noir film Four Boys And A Gun:

Standing just 5’2″, his stature was usually noted in press articles. “Pintsized blond Hinnant has a full-sized talent!” crowed a 1965 Variety review.

Most of his notices were similar to Variety’s take on the 1963 off-Broadway musical Put It In Writing: “Far from memorable but featuring good work by Bill Hinnant.” This was a theme throughout his career, as he received favorable reviews in forgotten musicals that would close on the road (Maltby & Shire’s Love Match), on opening night (The American Hamburger League, Frank Merriwell), or after a handful of performances (All Kinds Of Giants, God Bless Coney). He guested on television shows ranging from Route 66 and Naked City to sitcoms like Pete & Gladys and Karen Valentine’s self-titled show.

He found his defining role in 1967 when he was cast as Snoopy in the original production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. The cast included Gary “Radar” Burghoff in the title role, Bob Balaban as Linus and his younger brother Skip Hinnant playing Schroeder. Bill’s scene-stealing Snoopy is still considered to be the definitive interpretation of the role. His performance on the original cast recording is a blueprint for anyone tackling the part. He was awarded a Drama Desk Award for his performance later that year.

In 1969, Hinnant appeared in the film A Nice Girl Like Me with Barbara Ferris:

After a successful run with Charlie Brown, he was still plagued with subpar material- a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by critics:

Even when the material was up to snuff, there were other issues to contend with:

Hinnant reprised his role as Snoopy in a 1973 television adaption of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. This cast featured Wendell Burton as Charlie Brown and My Three Sons actor Barry Livingston as Linus.

Unfortunately The Bill Hinnant Story does not have a happy ending. On February 17th, 1978, Hinnant drowned while vacationing in the Dominican Republic. He was just 42 years old. The Record noted that “the beige-haired, digest-sized and personable bachelor” was very active in charities for underprivileged children and had adopted several worldwide through the Foster Parents Plan.

New York Times, (2/24/78)

See also:
The Yale Posture Photos: James Franciscus

Men of St.Mary’s Pre-Flight School
Boys of Summer: St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School
Christmas At St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School, Pt. I
Christmas At St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School, Pt. II
80 Years Ago: The Men of St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School
More Men of St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

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